Hidden guns debate heard by high court

Friday, January 23, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 7:46 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The intense, decade-long battle over whether Missourians should have the right to carry concealed weapons reached a pinnacle Thursday, as state Supreme Court judges questioned whether a new law allowing hidden guns violates an old constitutional provision.

The assumption heading into the hearing — as determined by a St. Louis circuit judge’s ruling — was that concealed guns are prohibited under a state constitutional section dating to 1875.

Supreme Court judges peppered an attorney representing concealed gun opponents to explain how that interpretation can hold true. They also focused intently on another claim of the plaintiff gun opponents — that the new law violates a constitutional ban on unfunded mandates to local governments by imposing new duties without providing enough funding.

Some supporters and opponents of the concealed gun law each emerged from the packed courthouse expressing surprise at the Supreme Court’s emphasis on the funding issues, which had been rejected by St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Steven Ohmer.

Ohmer blocked the law on Oct. 10 — one day before its effective date — on grounds it violated a constitutional section stating: “That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.”

The judge, siding with concealed gun opponents, interpreted the provision as an outright prohibition on concealed guns. Gun rights groups and the attorney general’s office, which is defending the law, contend the language means only there is no inherent right to concealed guns, implying the legislature can either allow or prohibit them.

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