April 8, 2004

Legal Battle Over Conceal and Carry Law Has Local Sheriff’s Department Taking ‘Wait and See’ Approach

To permit, or not to permit? That is the question being faced by Missouri sheriffs as the recent legal snafu surrounding the state’s embattled “Conceal and Carry” gun law has placed the burden upon county law enforcement officers to decide whether or not to issue the permits.

Currently Scotland County Sheriff Wayne Winn has chosen not to issue permits.

“We are taking a wait-and-see approach,” Winn said. “The Attorney General’s Office has advised us to hold off on issuing the permits until the legal issue is finally resolved.”

Scotland County is not alone. According to published reports, only approximately 25-percent of Missouri counties are issuing permits to qualifying applicants for the right to carry concealed weapons.

This work began again February 26 when the Missouri Supreme Court settled the long-running legal dispute over the conceal and carry law, which had been enacted in September 2003 after the legislature overrode the governor’s veto of the bill.

However, the high court’s ruling left additional confusion with the permit process. The decision noted the legality of the law could be questioned as it technically mandated counties offer the permit process but did not provide funding for the procedure because the “up to $100 fee” that the sheriff’s department’s are allowed to charge for the permit, is designated for the sheriff’s departments training fund and can not be used to offset the cost of the process.

The permit vender pays $38 for a finger-print review by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. The remainder of the up to $100 the sheriff’s department may charge is allocated by the law to the local department, but technically can not be used to pay employees that are handling the process.

Following the February court ruling Senator John Cauthorn filed legislation that would clarify the funding issue.

Cauthorn’s legislation adds a single sentence expanding uses for money deposited in the County Sheriff’s Revolving Fund. Current law stipulates the fund be used for training and equipment purchases. Cauthorn’s provision expressly allows use of money from the fund to pay for the cost of processing conceal-and-carry permits. This inclusion summarily eliminates launching “un-funded mandate” litigation.

“Our country was founded on a number of clear and reasonable principles - the right to bear arms being one of those,” Cauthorn said. “Missouri’s conceal-and-carry law was drafted and adopted in a manner consistent with these principles and my provision makes bullet proof – and lawyer proof – a responsible permitting program for carrying concealed weapons.”

But even if approved, the Senator’s amendment likely will not take effect any sooner than August according to the Missouri Sheriff’s Association (MSA).

The MSA reported that on March 11, the initial petitioners filed a motion for rehearing in the Missouri Supreme Court raising this un-funded mandate issue.

On March 30, the court ruled against this motion to re-open the appeal against the law but still left the funding issue somewhat unresolved.

No ruling has yet been made by the court on the petition. The sheriff’s association has scheduled an April 7 meeting in Jefferson City to discuss the current court case on the law.

“Right now there are a lot of different legal opinions floating around regarding this law,” Winn said. “They say it won’t be overturned, but I’m concerned. Obviously it’s still not over yet.”

The continuing court issues are one of the key reasons Winn and the majority of Missouri sheriffs have chosen not to issue permits.

“With the issue still up in the air, it is not in the best interest of the taxpayers for the county to be issuing these permits at this time,” Winn stated.

The sheriff pointed out that there is no process for refunding the permit fee. If the process is overturned by the court, anyone that has completed the process could be left with an invalid permit and still be out the application fee.

With the legal uncertainty there always is the possibility of legal action against the county and/or the sheriff’s department if the permit process is implemented and then later found to be illegal, Winn stated.

The sheriff indicated that less than a dozen people have contacted the Scotland County office regarding the availability of conceal and carry permits.

“We are not opposed to the law or to people applying for and receiving the permits,” Winn said. “We just don’t want to get ahead of the legal game and make this a bigger mess than it already is.”

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