St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Winning the hard way
OPPONENTS CAN'T BE FAULTED for trying to get the state's concealed-gun law off the books the easy way, through the actions of a friendly court. But the best way to win may be the hard way: in the democratic arena.
Liberals sometimes get lazy, relying on the courts instead of getting their hands dirty with democracy.
Take the misguided attempt to stop the California recall. Abortion is another example. While supporters of the abortion right take refuge in the courts, abortion foes chalk up victories in legislatures.
This editorial page fervently opposes the new concealed-gun law, which effectively lets people carry concealed guns just about everywhere. But just because a law is unwise doesn't make it unconstitutional.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer, who issued a preliminary injunction suspending the law last Friday, said that the state constitution is so clear that a 10-year-old would understand that it bans concealed guns. The adults on the Missouri Supreme Court might find the issue a little more complex.
The state constitution guarantees citizens the right to bear arms, but states that "this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons." However, just because the state constitution doesn't grant the power to carry a concealed weapon doesn't mean that the Legislature can't grant that power.
The wording about concealed guns entered the constitution in 1875 during the violent era of Reconstruction, when night riders terrorized freed slaves, and Jesse James and his gang marauded the state. A St. Louis judge, Thomas Gantt, explained its purpose. He said the practice of wearing concealed guns was "fraught with the most incalculable evil." But then he added that the words did not prevent people from putting a "pistol in the pocket or a bowie knife under the belt."
The most logical explanation is that the Legislature wanted to ensure the constitutionality of a concealed-gun law it had passed the year before to deal with the James gang. Judge Gantt seemed to say exactly that when he said the wording was needed because another state's concealed-gun law had been thrown out.
Attorney General Jay Nixon points out that no one ever has argued that it was unconstitutional to allow police and prison guards to carry concealed guns. Nor did gun opponents or the governor bring up the provision during the legislative debate.
Three gun opponents who posted a $250,000 appeal bond — attorney Burt Newman, St. Louis Alderman Lyda Krewson and Million Mom March leader Jeanne Kirkton — have shown admirable ardor. Ms. Krewson, who saw her husband shot to death in 1995, even mortgaged her house. If they lose, gun foes will need that passion to pass an initiative to change the constitution and ban concealed guns once and for all.
Copyright © 2003 St. Louis Post-Dispatch