Concealed guns OK statewide, almost

Friday, October 1, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Effective today, Missouri's piecemeal approach to concealed guns becomes a little easier to understand: If you live in most of the St. Louis area or Jackson County, you can't have them. If you live anywhere else, you can.

Rural Osage County, just east and south of Missouri's capital, has been the only place outside the state's largest cities not to accept applications for concealed weapons permits.

But Sheriff Carl Fowler plans to begin doing so today, having finally overcome his cost concerns following a Supreme Court ruling seven months ago.

The high court said Jackson County and three other counties did not have to implement the law because opponents had shown in court that the law would impose costs not covered by the state -- an unconstitutional, unfunded mandate. Jackson County subsequently chose not to implement the law; the three other counties did.

Citing cost concerns similar to Jackson County, St. Louis County also is seeking a court declaration that it does not have to implement the law. A hearing is scheduled Friday in Jefferson City.

St. Louis city also has refused to take concealed gun applications but has not gone to court over the decision.

The law allows most Missourians age 23 and older to receive concealed weapons permits from their sheriffs after passing criminal background checks, a firearms training course and paying a fee.

Sheriffs in most counties began taking concealed gun permits after it became apparent the Legislature would not fix the funding flaw during its session that ended in May. Fowler simply waited longer than most.

"Originally, I was naively hoping that the Legislature would get the language in the law fixed," said Fowler, a Democrat, who says he personally supports concealed guns.

Then Fowler agonized over how much he should charge applicants. Although the law allows a fee of up to $100, the Supreme Court determined it can be spent by sheriffs only on equipment and training, not on other administrative expenses or even the fingerprint background checks required by the law.

Like many other sheriffs, Fowler decided to have applicants pay the Highway Patrol directly for the background checks. He opted to charge an additional $10 for his office costs.

Public pressure also played a role in his decision to start issuing permits.

"I was getting a lot of calls -- persistent calls -- from potential applicants who were wanting to know when and if they could come in and apply," Fowler said. Plus, "in talking to some other sheriffs, I kind of got the impression they weren't really having any problems in issuing the permits."

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