On a sunny day in late October 2014, Jeffry Smith and about 50 armed buddies strolled through St. Louis' Citygarden on the way to the Gateway Arch. To many observers, including the city's mayor and police chief, the display of pistols and rifles among downtown's busiest tourist spots was a disturbing example of the how Amendment 5 had thrown the state's gun laws into disarray.
Approved by 60 percent of Missouri voters in August, the amendment swept away local ordinances prohibiting open carry and enshrined the right to bear arms with a virtually impenetrable legal shield.
The armed walk was just a start, says Smith, an Ohio firearms instructor who co-organized the event with local gun-rights activists. Now he tells Daily RFT he's planning to test just how far Amendment 5 can go -- and that means carrying weapons onto MetroLink trains and buses.
"The ongoing prohibition on carrying guns on buses and trains disenfranchises a significant part of the population," Smith says. He points out that legal gun owners can carry weapons in their cars without any special permit, but "when you get on a bus or train, the law disarms you."
Smith says he's waiting for warmer weather before he sets a date for the "test." Though he's planning on going solo, he doesn't rule out welcoming other like-minded activists for the ride.
Smith acknowledges that he'll be risking arrest -- and potentially a felony charge -- by bringing a gun on a St. Louis bus or MetroLink train.
However, the chance to be arrested is critical to the test. If the cops haul him off to jail, Smith says he will cite Amendment 5's provision that obligates Missouri to defend the "inalienable" right to bear arms within its borders. The resulting court battle, he believes, could go a long way in clearing up conflicts between state and local firearms statutes.
Ultimately, Smith hopes these kinds of tests can one day remove those remaining barriers between law-abiding, gun-toting citizens and Missouri's publicly accessible spaces.
It's worth noting that Amendment 5 did more than just abolish local bans on open carry. Last week, a St. Louis judge dismissed a weapons charge against Raymond Robinson, a convicted felon police arrested after they found a .380-caliber pistol in his car.
Robinson had previously served time in prison on a felony charge for unlawful use of a weapon and carrying a concealed weapon. But even though his criminal record also includes charges for assault and battery, the judge ruled that the law prohibiting all felons from possessing firearms conflicts with Amendment 5, whose language only prohibits "violent felons" or those a court determines "to be a danger to self or others as a result of a mental disorder" from possessing firearms.
According to the judge, Robinson didn't meet Amendment's 5 ambiguous standard for "violent." Essentially, because Amendment 5 fails to differentiate among different kinds of felonies, the judge determined he couldn't charge Robinson for simply possessing a firearm.
Last week's ruling was restricted to Robinson's case, but critics of the amendment, such as St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson and prosecutors in Kansas City and St Louis, have characterized the apparent loophole as a dangerous precedent. Dotson and St. Louis circuit attorney Jennifer Joyce are pushing the state's Supreme Court to strike down the law. They claim the amendment's ballot measure misled voters.
Even the amendment's sponsor, Senator Kurt Schaefer, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that allowing felons to possess firearms was not "the intent or legal effect of Amendment 5."
Smith, however, says isn't bothered by the ruling.
"If you paid your debt to society and you're a non-violent felon, then I don't have problem with a person getting their gun rights back," he says.