JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Former U.S. Rep. Mel Hancock believes Missourians should have the right to carry concealed guns, but also thinks the state amendment bearing his name that forbids unfunded mandates "very well could undo" the law. Enacted when legislators overrode Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's veto Sept. 11, the law allows Missourians age 23 and older to receive concealed gun permits from their local sheriffs after passing criminal background checks, firearms training courses and paying a fee of up to $100. The law also entitles Missourians age 21 and older to conceal guns in their vehicles without need of a permit.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer blocked the law on Oct. 10 -- one day before its effective date -- on grounds it violated a section of the state constitutional that states the right to bear arms "shall not justify" the wearing of concealed weapons.
Supporters of the law appealed Ohmer's decision, and during arguments before the Missouri Supreme Court last week, the judges focused on the Hancock issue more than on questions about the constitution banning concealed weapons.
The amendment, adopted in 1980, states that state government revenues cannot grow faster than the income of Missourians. It prohibits the state from "requiring any new or expanded activities by counties and other political subdivisions without full state financing, or from shifting the tax burdens to counties and other political subdivisions."
The concealed guns law allows sheriffs to charge as much as $100 for each application for a concealed gun permit. But attorneys for the law's opponents -- Richard Miller, of Kansas City, and Burton Newman, of St. Louis -- told the court the law imposes an unfunded mandate because the law states the $100 "shall only be used by law enforcement agencies for the purchase of equipment and training."
That means sheriffs can't use the money to cover the $38 cost of conducting background checks and the cost of paying staff to process the applications, Miller and Newman argued.
Several sheriffs have said they plan to use money normally spent on training and equipment to pay for the additional costs imposed by the law, and then pay for training and equipment with the money from the concealed handgun applications.
Newman and Miller said this also violates the Hancock amendment, and Hancock agreed.
"As soon as they say the cost of providing that service is $38 and then X amount of dollars will be spent over here in the general fund to be used for training and equipment, then it becomes a tax," he said.
Concealed weapons supporters said they would be much better off if the law is tossed out on Hancock grounds. If the state's high court decides the constitution prohibits concealed weapons, gun-rights supporters would have to mount an effort to amend the constitution. But if the law is declared in violation of the Hancock amendment, lawmakers need only to pass a revised version of the law to fix the problem.
"I support the conceal-carry law, but I also support the fact that the state can't mandate additional costs at the local level," Hancock said.