Lapse seen in gun permit law

Wednesday, May 5, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 7:45 p.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

KANSAS CITY — The police chief of Hallsville issued concealed weapons permits to people who had not yet cleared fingerprint-based background checks, as state law requires him to do if the checks are not done within 45 days.

Police Chief Pete Herring said more than 40 people are eligible for the permits because they applied March 19, more than the 45 days ago.

“I’m working within the confines of the law,” Herring said Monday. “If it was up to me, no one would get a permit until they are cleared.”

Hallsville, about 12 miles northwest of Columbia, is believed to be the first place in the state that has issued the permits to people who have not passed such checks.

Herring said he completed Missouri criminal records checks on the applicants, but checks based on fingerprints, which confirm an applicant’s identity, had not yet been completed by the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the FBI.

Herring said he would revoke a permit if he gets a report that shows the applicant has a criminal history that prevents the person from carrying a concealed weapon.

But an attorney for people challenging the state’s new weapons law said that would be too late to prevent someone from committing a crime.

“The problem is, you could be issuing a permit to a felon, to a person convicted of spouse abuse; you don’t know,” said the attorney, Richard Miller of Kansas City. “It seems to me it could be dangerous.”

A new state law requires sheriffs to issue gun permits to qualified applicants. But a lawsuit claiming the law has created an unfunded mandate has kept 48 counties from taking applications.

Hallsville is in Boone County, where Sheriff Ted Boehm authorized Herring to issue the permits, although the county is not issuing them.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol is doing background checks on more than 4,500 gun permits applicants, said Capt. Chris Ricks. Most of the checks are done within a couple weeks, but Ricks said it has been difficult to get information from the Boone County court system about Hallsville applicants.

Boone County’s electronic court records system was not adaptable to the patrol’s computer system until recently, Ricks said, so the patrol had to determine the disposition of Hallsville applicants with manual searches and phone calls.

The patrol can’t issue reports clearing the applicants until it can verify that court cases have been dismissed or resolved, Ricks said.

As of Tuesday, the highway patrol was processing background checks for gun permits given to them on April 16, Ricks said.

The Ashland Police Department, the other department in Boone County that has agreed to issue concealed weapons permits, doesn’t anticipate a problem like Hallsville’s in the immediate future, because Ashland only started accepting the applications last week, Ashland Police Chief Mel Rupard said.

Rupard said Ashland is trying to send the fingerprint checks to the highway patrol within three days of receiving applications. Because the highway patrol is only a few weeks behind in processing the gun permit fingerprint checks, Rupard said, Ashland would get them back in about 30 days, well within the 45-day window for the application deadline.

In all, more than 200 people have applied for permits in Hallsville, Herring said.

Ricks and Jim Vermeersch, executive director of the Missouri Sheriffs Association, said they were not aware of any place else in Missouri that has issued permits to applicants who have not cleared background checks.

Herring said it was not the patrol’s fault that the checks weren’t done in time. The patrol is conducting the gun-permit applications as well as checks on potential teachers, adoptive parents, bus drivers and others.

-Missourian reporter Laura McNamar contributed to this report.

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