JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Most Missourians love their Second Amendment rights, and they love their guns, which explains why gun rights bills seem to flow out of the General Assembly with such ease.
Missouri has basically been a testing ground for gun rights legislation – one might even call the Show-Me State a safe haven for gun owners. Missouri’s Legislature passed a bill in 2016 making it legal for anyone aged 19 or older to carry a gun without any training and took away the required permit for concealed weapons. The General Assembly just a few years ago had even debated nullifying all federal gun laws.
More than a few state legislators carry weapons in the Capitol, but the new increased security in the statehouse following the election of Gov. Eric Greitens put some new rules in place when it comes to guns in the building.
Unless you’re a lawmaker, you’re not bringing them in.
“Those not fitting the previous category, wishing to enter the Capitol Building and legally in possession of a firearm will be asked to return the firearm to a secure location in their vehicle prior to entering,” a news release from the Missouri Capitol Police read. “A concealed carry permit does not make an allowance for a firearm to be brought into the Capitol.”
It’s an interesting change, one that took the Show-Me State to the opposite side of the gun debate spectrum – with the changes brought in with Greitens, Missouri’s Capitol had more in common with the left-leaning California than the right-wing state of Texas on this issue.
Where California and Texas stand on guns in the capitol
California bans the possession or bringing in of any loaded firearm the State Capitol, any legislative office, any office of the Governor or other constitutional officer, any Senate or Assembly hearing room, the Governor’s Mansion or any other residence of the Governor or the residence of any constitutional officer or any member of the Legislature. (Pen. Code, §§ 171c, 171d, 171e .)
One might think that bringing an unloaded gun would solve the issue, but Californians have taken that into consideration as well. The statute contains a provision saying “For these purposes, a firearm shall be deemed loaded whenever both the firearm and its unexpended ammunition are in the immediate possession of the same person.”
Meanwhile, in Texas, most lawmakers are packing heat, but there’s no rule keeping the everyday citizen from walking into the Capitol building with a loaded gun. In fact, the process to gain entry into Texas’ State Capitol might be considered easier if you’re carrying a concealed weapon. A person carrying a concealed gun is required to carry a permit, which they only have to present to a trooper before being allowed in, no metal detectors necessary. There’s even a special lane designated for the usage of conceal-and-carry owners.
The Capitol Access Pass (CAP) provides expedited access to the Texas State Capitol through the main public entrances. Approved applicants may present their Texas Driver License or Texas ID at the line designated for handgun license holders and CAP for entry to the Capitol.
Under the statute, state agencies and political subdivisions cannot use the Texas Penal Code to exclude concealed handguns from government property. In fact, if they try to, they can be fined $1,000-$1,500 for the first offense and $10,000-$10,500 for each subsequent offense.
Reception of Governor’s limited guns policy
While the Republican governor’s decree exempted the state lawmakers from the Capitol’s gun ban, many of his fellow GOP members are less than enthusiastic about his decision.
Rep. Nick Marshall, R-Parkville, infamously put a sign on his door in January offering any constituent who was not allowed to carry in the Capitol to borrow one of his guns.
— Randy D. Dunn (@MORepDunn) January 12, 2017
And while other members of the GOP legislature may agree with Marshall in disliking the governor’s orders, they also think Marshall might be taking a step too far.
Rep. Nick Schroer will be one of the first to say Marshall may have taken it too far, but he’s also one of the first to step up for gun rights in Missouri.
“I thought [the ban] was a little questionable,” Schroer said.
The freshman legislator has been very vocal in his support of conceal-and-carry laws and has even filed HB 96, a bill that targets private businesses that do not allow concealed weapons to be brought into their buildings.
Schroer says his intent is to “deter people from creating a gun-free zone.”
The ever-changing policies
But, like all things, time can bring change… like the change that occurred just this week on the exact same issue. Many were surprised to see a sign posted at the entrances of the Capitol this Monday, which stated that “conceal and carry permit holders are authorized to carry concealed firearms in the building, except on the Chamber floors of both house of legislature, their galleries, and their committee meeting rooms,” citing Section 571.107.1(5) RSMo.
So, what does this mean? It means that Marshall has removed the sign from his door, but more importantly, it signifies that the Greitens’ administration has now lifted the ban, allowing permit holders to carry. But that brings more questions since Missouri passed a law allowing anyone to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Schroer says the notice’s current language could present another potential issue, as requiring a permit is not in line constitutionally with a citizen’s right to carry in the state.
“I think this is a step in the right direction and is more in line with the law and what the legislature wanted,” Schroer said. “It allows people to exercise their Second Amendment right.”
But the change in policy leaves another question to be answered: who is enforcing the checks for a gun permit?
The Missouri Times has reached out to the Department of Public Safety for answers, but they have not responded.
As soon as any comment is provided, this story will be updated.
At least one thing is certain: the notice says all other weapons are prohibited. In Missouri, your gun is free to be carried. Your knife, however, may be best saved for another discussion.
Benjamin Peters is a reporter for the Missouri Times and Missouri Times Magazine, and also produces the #MoLeg Podcast. He joined the Missouri Times in 2016 after working as a sports editor and TV news producer in mid-Missouri. Benjamin is a graduate of Missouri State University in Springfield. To contact Benjamin, email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @BenjaminDPeters.