In less than five weeks, voters in Missouri will be asked to enact one of the loosest gun laws in America, one that will allow just about everyone to carry a concealed firearm.
Just about everywhere.
It's called Proposition B, and by the time you vote on it April 6, the National Rifle Association and friends are expected to have spent upwards of $4 million -- roughly the cost of a well-funded Missouri Senate race -- to convince you that the concealed heat you pack on your next visit to the daycare center or the bank or the shopping mall or the stadium or your favorite bar will make the state safer for democracy.
This is the first time a concealed-carry measure has been put to a state's voters, and the NRA has decided to go for the gold. This measure doesn't merely relax Missouri's current ban on concealed firearms: It takes an AK-47 to it.
Understand that Proposition B is a "shall-issue" law, meaning that it requires county sheriffs (or, in St. Louis County, the chief of police) to issue concealed-firearms permits to anyone who isn't disqualified by a short list of conditions such as having been a felon, currently being a fugitive or having stayed in a mental institution. Discretion is prohibited.
"We can have a guy get released from jail for serving a one-year sentence for stalking, walk across the street straight from jail to get his concealed-weapons permit and they have to give it to him," says County Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCullough, one of many law-enforcement officials opposed to Proposition B.
Ditto for the person who flunks the vision test for a driver's license, McCullough adds. If that person can find the way from the license bureau to the police station, the police chief must grant a concealed-firearm application, bad eyesight notwithstanding.
Is your worst conviction for receiving stolen property, credit fraud, false impersonation of a law-enforcement officer or sale of switchblades and brass knuckles? No problem. The sheriff must give you a concealed-firearm permit.
Stay clean for the past five years, and you are entitled to one of those permits even if you were previously convicted of child molestation or third-degree assault. (These examples courtesy of the Safe Schools and Workplaces Committee, which is fighting the measure.)
Get the picture? Proposition B isn't about permitting some law-abiding citizens to protect themselves better. It's about virtually everyone having an inalienable right to pack heat, wherever they'd like.
The NRA-funded campaign won't make specific mention of all the places that you'd be able to carry a concealed weapon, and only in part because of the chills that will rush down the spines of everyday people when they realize how many hidden gun-toters they'd be encountering in their everyday lives.
No, the main reason the pro-gun advertising won't mention where you can carry hidden heat is that space and time won't permit. About the only places you won't be to able to carry a concealed weapon are your church, school and government buildings (and even if you do it there, no penalty is proscribed).
But wait, say Proposition B supporters, any business can post a sign prohibiting you from bringing in a concealed weapon. Most banks, jewelry stores, malls, restaurants and other establishments would have the good sense to prefer that their visitors either be unarmed (or at least be wearing the more traditional six-shooters on their hips), and thus they'd post one of those signs.
Ah, but that brings us to the most telltale part of Proposition B: the "penalty" for ignoring a "no guns inside" warning. This is where the rubber meets the road.
What do you suppose happens to someone who illegally carries a concealed firearm into a place where the owner has specifically posted a prohibition? Would they be arrested and charged with a felony, subject to jail time? Would they lose their gun and pay a stiff fine?
Not quite. If you answered, "Nothing on at least the first two offenses," go to the head of gun class.
That's right. Nothing.
Don't trust me on a point so outrageous. Trust RsMO 571.094, which would be enacted into law if voters pass Proposition B. Here's the penalty provision for violating a business owner's no-gun warning:
"Any person who enters in violation of this section shall be guilty of the infraction of trespass. The third such violation within a five-year period shall constitute a class C misdemeanor, and the permittee shall have his permit revoked and shall not be eligible to reapply for a permit for a period of three years from such violation."
How about that? If a bank, say, posts a prohibition against bringing in a concealed gun, you can still get caught doing it twice before anything happens to you at all. An "infraction" ranks below the level of minor misdemeanor, plotting its seriousness on the level of littering or a traffic offense.
Given their caseloads, neither the city nor the county even considers prosecuting infractions, raising the question of how no-gun-sign violators could get convicted of a first or second offense. But even if Proposition B were to pass and the authorities tried every infraction of trespass, there still would be no central clearinghouse of such information, so the only person who could lose his permit for illegally carrying his gun into a bank three times is one who keeps getting caught doing it in the same county.
Then, on the third offense, it's only a Class C misdemeanor, punishable at the same level as a bar fight (no more than 15 days in jail). Obviously, a business owner's no-gun sign isn't going to do a lot of good.
Unless perhaps it's bulletproof.