(CNSNews.com) - Gun control advocates filed a lawsuit Wednesday hoping to derail Missouri's concealed carry law just days before it is set to take effect.
The legal challenge is the latest effort to scale back the law. Earlier this week, Democrat Gov. Bob Holden announced he would draft emergency rules banning concealed firearms in all state-owned or operated buildings.
With Missouri on the verge of becoming the 36th state to let private citizens carry concealed firearms, gun control advocates are hoping to either delay enforcement of the law or have it overturned by a court.
In a rare move last month, the Missouri Legislature overturned Holden's veto of the legislation. Now with time winding down before the law goes into effect Saturday, Holden is throwing his support behind the lawsuit and a possible petition drive to overturn the law.
The lawsuit cites the state constitution, which guarantees 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."
The plaintiffs, who include three state senators, religious leaders and local elected officials, argue that the constitution couldn't be more explicit regarding concealed firearms.
"That is reason enough that this legislation should not have been passed in the first place," said state Sen. Maida Coleman, a Democrat from St. Louis who is a plaintiff. "The constitution prohibits the wearing of concealed weapons, and therefore, that in itself makes this legislation unconstitutional."
The plaintiffs are challenging two other components of the law. They complain it's vague and violates a constitutional amendment prohibiting unfunded mandates. Even though county sheriffs can collect $100 for permits, the lawsuit claims the state provides no funding to pay for additional expenses.
State Rep. Larry Crawford, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, remained hopeful that the law would meet any legal test it faces.
"I am as confident as I can be," Crawford said. "I've been told that this is the most tightly drawn legislation, better than three states that have passed [concealed carry laws] this year. It's definitely better drafted and more tightly drawn than Colorado, New Mexico and Minnesota."
Missouri isn't the only state with a provision about concealed firearms in its constitution, said Joe Waldron, executive director of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms. He said Texas and New Mexico have similar provisions, yet both have concealed carry laws.
Waldron said even though the concealed carry clause exists in the Missouri Constitution, there was nothing stopping the Legislature from enacting the law.
"All that means is that you can't get caught carrying concealed and say, 'Wait a minute, I have a right to carry concealed,' " Waldron said. "Nothing in that says the state can't statutorily make a provision for carrying concealed."
Kansas City Councilman Alvin Brooks, a critic of the concealed carry law, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which also includes three Democrat state senators who voted against the measure.
Coleman said she has two concerns about the legislation. She said Missourians defeated a 1999 ballot measure on the same issue and she's worried the law could be exploited because of loopholes.
"This is a slap in the face to all of the voters in the state of Missouri who went out and said no [to concealed carry]," Coleman said.
Lawyers spent much of Wednesday in court waiting for a judge's ruling on where to hold the trial. Plaintiffs want the case to be heard in St. Louis, while Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon would prefer to have it in Jefferson City, the state capital. A decision is expected Thursday.
Holden, who has offered his support for the lawsuit, announced he would support a petition drive to overturn the law. Like Coleman, he has repeatedly cited the 1999 ballot measure as a reason for opposing the law. Holden's office didn't respond to a request for comment.
Even though his veto failed to hold up in the Legislature, Holden has taken steps to scale back the law on his own. The governor announced Monday he would prohibit concealed firearms in state buildings.
The decision prompted the Citizens Committee to denounce Holden for spreading "sour grapes" hysteria about guns. Despite the recent hubbub, Waldron predicted gun control advocates would eventually retreat.
"Typically, states will pass a fairly restrictive law to try it out and put their toe in the water to see what it's like," Waldron said. "After a couple of years when they find out these predictions don't come to pass, they back off and relax the laws."
The law requires both classroom and live-fire training to verify applicants' knowledge and understanding of state laws concerning the use of deadly force and their ability to safely handle and accurately shoot a handgun. Only adults over 23 years old are allowed to have the concealed carry permits.
See Earlier Story:
Missouri Lawmakers Override Governor's Veto on Gun Law (Sept. 15, 2003)
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