Overriding Common Sense

Jewish Light Editorial

It now appears that gun possession is protected more stringently than voting in Missouri.

That may be a slight exaggeration, but not much. The Legislature last week overrode Governor Jay Nixon’s vetoes of 13 bills, including one allowing concealed weapon carry without a permit. Another will enable a November vote that if successful, would impose a voter ID requirement on Missourians for 2017 elections and beyond.  

The gun bill is enough to scare Eddie the Eagle, gun safety emblem of the National Rifle Association. For the new legislation will enable most adults in the state to carry concealed weapons in most public places without a permit — making us the 11th such state — and therefore without training.

The law has been the focus of much national attention, especially for its adoption of a permit-free, training-free concealed carry right. A variety of local law enforcement officials have offered their significant concerns about the inability to deny concealed carry to individuals they believe pose a public safety risk.

With both mandated training and screening now out the window in many if not most instances, Missouri joins the group of states adopting the so-called “constitutional carry” platform of minimizing the restrictions and gatekeeping that the state can impose on gun possession.

Of course, the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does not permit unlimited possession, even in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). That case applied the Second Amendment to individuals’ rights to carry a gun, but offered several examples of restrictions that can be imposed on those rights. 

In Missouri and a number of other states, however, the question has not been so much which restrictions can be lawfully applied as whether a legislature deeply rooted in the gun culture and supported by the gun lobby can expand unregulated and untrained gun ownership. Missouri now joins with some of the most hardcore of those states.

As unconcerned as our legislators appear to be about the proliferation of guns without permits and training, however, they seem very worried about the issue of voter identification fraud. Which is strange for at least two reasons.

First, as opponents of more stringent voter ID laws point out, the number of issues arising from voters falsely identifying themselves at polls is essentially microscopic. While local officials have attempted to skew election results through absentee ballot practices and other treatment, almost none of the criminal voter cases result from voters trying to pass themselves off as someone they’re not. In fact, there has never been a single reported case of in-person voter fraud in Missouri.

Second, there is more and more evidence of the disproportionate impact that voter ID laws — requesting a formal government ID or some other methodology that requires a financial purchase or time away from work to process — have on seniors, minorities and low-income populations. Some research studies have estimated that hundreds of thousands of a state’s residents could be turned away for failure to comply with more rigid and costly requirements. 

Moreover, there have been recent judicial decisions that have accused legislators of discriminatory intent in adopting such laws. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit determined earlier this year that lawmakers in North Carolina had targeted black residents of the state in their shaping of a voter ID law. After that court struck down provisions of the statute, the result was affirmed in a deadlocked vote at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because the Missouri law now in place only requires that voters statewide approve the new requirements before taking effect, we won’t know until after the upcoming election if there will be a challenge that passes muster. But rest assured that if the vote goes the way our legislature intends, challenges to the law will have a significant impact on the state’s coffers, as the Missouri Attorney General will be required to defend the adopted law.

When there appears never to have been voter fraud under the current requirements, it is disappointing that Missouri legislators are so emphatic in imposing requirements that are unnecessary, may cost a large amount of taxpayer dollars to defend, and may end up just as constitutionally flawed as those in other states.

It’s just as disappointing that those same legislators are insistent on preventing the adequate screening and training of a large number of those who will acquire guns without screening and carry them without obstruction in many places in our state. 

But hey, maybe those who voted for both the gun easing and voter ID figure that with the money saved on permitting and training, we’ll be able to afford the lawsuits the state will face on voter ID.  Absent that thinking, we can’t really figure out any public benefit to either law.