Crowell pursuing financial fix for law on guns

Friday, January 21, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Although concerns about a flood of litigation over Missouri's concealed-weapons law haven't come to pass, state Sen. Jason Crowell is renewing attempts to fix a flaw in the statute identified a year ago by the state Supreme Court.

The court ruled in February that county sheriffs may not have to process applications for conceal-and-carry permits as the law directed because it didn't directly compensate local authorities for added expenses, making it an unconstitutional, unfunded mandate.

In the wake of the ruling, many sheriffs forged ahead anyway and began processing applications despite warnings from Attorney General Jay Nixon that they could be exposing themselves to lawsuits. Other sheriffs waited for the legislature to pass a follow-up measure to fix the funding mechanism.

Momentum on that bill, however, quickly dissipated last year after then-governor Bob Holden, a Democrat, threatened a veto.

In 2003, the Republican-led legislature overrode Holden's veto to enact the law granting qualified Missourians the right to carry a concealed weapon.

Today, every county in the state except St. Louis plus St. Louis city are processing permits. Jackson County, which had balked at issuing permits, plans to do so starting Feb. 7.

Mick Covington, the interim director of the Missouri Sheriffs Association, said his group still supports passage of a clean-up bill to address the court's concerns.

"We would definitely like to see some clarification on a few issues," Covington said. "Any move in that direction would be welcome."

New Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican, endorsed such efforts during the recent election campaign.

Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, has filed legislation to clarify that sheriffs can use proceeds from the fee to cover their expenses for issuing permits. If the fee revenue proved insufficient, they could request reimbursement from the state. The fee for an application may be as much as $100.

The existing law earmarks the proceeds from application fees for sheriffs' equipment and training costs.

Since Missourians are required to apply for conceal-and-carry permits in their home county, the continued refusal of St. Louis County and city to accept applications means their residents are ineligible for permits. Fixing the law's funding mechanism likely would mean those jurisdictions could no longer avoid implementation.

Nixon spokesman Jim Gardner said the attorney general continues to support legislative action on the issue.

"The attorney general is in favor of uniformity in enforcement across the state," Gardner said. "This is certainly no exception."

The bill is SB 157.

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