Gun advocates urged to be patient on concealed weapons case

Thursday, February 26, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gun rights advocates, anxious for the Missouri Supreme Court to rule on a challenge to the state's new concealed weapons law, were urged Wednesday to be patient.

"The court's decision cannot be rushed," Rep. Larry Crawford, who sponsored the concealed firearms legislation, told dozens of gun rights supporters at a rally in the Capitol.

The Supreme Court heard arguments Jan. 22 on a lawsuit claiming that the law violates a 129-year-old phrase in the Missouri Constitution.

Enacted when legislators overrode Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's veto last fall, the statute allows qualified Missourians age 23 and older to receive concealed gun permits from their local sheriffs. The law also entitles Missourians age 21 and older to conceal guns in their vehicles without need of a permit.

Blocked by judge

A judge in St. Louis 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."

Crawford, R-California, urged those at Wednesday's rally not to do anything that could jeopardize a court ruling upholding the law.

"We certainly would not want to harm the outcome by inappropriate words or actions," he said.

He also urged supporters of the law not to pester the Supreme Court by checking on when the case might be decided.

Beth Riggert, the Supreme Court's information officer, said Wednesday she fields a question almost daily about the status of the case. But such intense interest will not affect the court's decision, she said.

"It won't matter," Riggert said. "The court is going to rule on the case when they believe they've decided all the issues that they think need to be decided. ... They don't pay attention to what's going on outside the court."

Riggert said she has received more calls and e-mails from the public on the status of this case than on any other case in her 2 1/2 years in the job.

"I don't really recall getting phone calls from citizens about other cases in the past," Riggert said. "A lot of what we do are important legal issues, but just aren't on the public's radar screen. This is an issue that certainly was on the public's mind."

At the rally, Rep. Steve Hunter, R-Joplin, told advocates to pay attention to how particular judges rule on the case and to remember that in the November general election.

Missouri Supreme Court judges are nominated by panels of lawyers and citizens and appointed by the governor. However, they must stand for retention in a general election after their first year on the bench and every 12 years after that.

Supreme Court Judges Richard Teitelman and Duane Benton are up for retention this fall, although Benton has been nominated to a federal appeals court and might not appear on the ballot.

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