Right-to-carry constitutional challenge is dubious

Sunday, October 26, 2003

In the Missouri General Assembly, we debated the right-to-carry concealed weapons for a full decade before overriding Gov. Bob Holden's veto last month. During that decade, right-to-carry enjoyed the support of a lopsided, bipartisan majority.

During most of that period, Democrats controlled both houses. The longtime House sponsor was the former Potosi Democrat, House Majority Floor Leader Wayne Crump. The Senate sponsor of the bill, and the senator who last month made the motion to override the governor of his party, is a formidable legal scholar -- Harold Caskey of Butler.

In floor debate, hearings, editorials, columns, letters to the editor and town meetings, no one I'm aware of ever raised the issue that right-to-carry was unconstitutional.

Now it is the constitutional issue that is questioned in a circuit court in the City of St. Louis. (It has raised eyebrows across the state that plaintiffs were able to win venue in the city, perhaps the single jurisdiction most hostile to right-to-carry.) And all this because opponents who lost every battle with the elected representatives of the people have brought suit, claiming anew that Missouri's Constitution prohibits right-to-carry. The constitutional objection is an entirely bogus one that I trust will be seen as such by our courts.

During the decade that we debated right-to-carry in Missouri, 21 other states passed it. These included three, in addition to us, just this year: Minnesota, Ohio and New Mexico. No state has repealed it. Nor is there any evidence this writer has seen, from any state, that anything like a broad-based repeal movement has emerged within a state that passed it.

The vast majority of the Americans population lives under right-to-carry. That would be 36 states besides Missouri. (Another eight states have a more restrictive version, whereby law-enforcement professionals have discretion as to whether to issue the permits.) This includes residents of many states that have constitutional language identical or nearly identical to Missouri's, but nonetheless have the law on their books.

Hugely populous states such as Pennsylvania, Florida and Texas have had this law on the books for years. Quite simply none of the scare stories and bogeymen raised by opponents have come true in these states. Again, had such horrific things occurred, you would expect to see the emergence of repeal efforts. Not so.

Liberals who oppose right-to-carry might be astonished if they knew the historical provenance of the restrictions against right-to-carry. Scholarly research has established that the first gun-control measures, including prohibitions on right-to-carry, came about in southern states during the Jim Crow era of denial of rights to blacks. Purpose: To guarantee that African-Americans were unarmed and couldn't defend themselves against the depredations of the infamous nightriders, the hate-inspired KKK and their disgraceful ilk.

Author and researcher John Lott wrote a book entitled "More Guns, Less Crime" that makes the case. His work hasn't been effectively refuted. The tide of history is clear.

Peter Kinder is assistant to the chairman of Rust Communications and president pro tem of the Missouri Senate.

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