JEFFERSON CITY _ While the National Rifle Association has gotten nationwide attention for efforts to legalize concealed weapons, the organization has been conspicuously absent from Missouri's debate over the issue.
Campaign contribution reports demonstrate the limited role of the NRA in Missouri. In the primary and general election campaigns for the 180 statehouse legislative seats up in 1994, only 17 candidates received NRA contributions ranging from $1,000 to $200.
So far, organized support for concealed weapons has mostly come from grass-roots groups like the Kansas City-based Western Missouri Shooters' Alliance and the Second Amendment Coalition of Missouri, a St. Louis group.
Kevin Jamison, the President of the Shooters' Alliance, said lobbying efforts so far have been at the personal expense of members and officials of the local organizations.
"We decided in consultation with the NRA that the best way was for us to walk the point on this," said Jamison. "We've agreed we will handle things on the ground."
Jamison said that for the NRA, it is just a matter of a crowded agenda.
"The NRA's got a pretty full plate," said Jamison referring to the national organization's efforts to get concealed weapons legislation in several other states this spring.
But with the Missouri House set to consider the measure with an amendment requiring that the ultimate decision be made by the state's voters next April, the NRA will have to get more involved, Jamison said.
NRA spokesman Chip Walker said the organization has not decided what it will do if the measure goes to a vote of the people. But local supporters of the measure say they may have to spend as much as $5 million to pass the proposition.
And local organizations do not have that kind of money.
"The NRA is not ignoring us," said Jamison. "So far the money has been entirely local, but if there is a referendum we would have to go to the NRA for support."
Opponents of concealed weapons insist the effort to pass a concealed weapons law in Missouri is part of a concerted nationwide NRA effort.
"The NRA is spearheading a state-by-state campaign" to get concealed weapons measures nationwide, said Jamie Shor, a spokeswoman for Handgun Control Inc., the Washington D.C. organization headed by Sarah Brady. Brady is the wife of Jim Brady, the former press secretary who was wounded in the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan, and the namesake of the federal Brady Bill.
After the passage of the Brady Bill last year, Shor said the NRA needs victories at the state level. "They are going state-by-state trying to loosen the gun control laws," Shor said.
"Everybody thinks its the `big bad NRA' that's behind this, but it's just a bunch of Missouri residents," said Columbia private investigator Tim Oliver.
Oliver is the legislative strategist for an umbrella group called the Missouri Legislative Issues Council, or MOLIC. Oliver said he and the group's chairman, Steve Coleman, the CEO of a St. Louis money management firm, have been spending their own money for the cause.
If the issue does not pass this year, however, Coleman for one is out. "I don't have time anymore." Next year, he said, MOLIC may bail out, opening the door for the NRA to take the lead on the issue in Missouri.
Oliver estimates he and other individuals associated with MOLIC have spent "tens of thousands of dollars, conservatively" over the last few years trying to get a concealed weapons bill passed in the state.
Coleman said he spent $50,000 on the fight for concealed weapons last year.
Neither Oliver nor Coleman's names appear on the list of individuals to whom the NRA paid money over the last several years on file with the Missouri Ethics Commission, and Oliver said the group gets no support from any outside organization.
There is at least some cross-over membership; Oliver and Coleman are both members of the NRA, although Oliver said he is not very active in the organization.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Harold Caskey, D-Butler, vows NRA had nothing to do with writing the bill. If the organization decides to support it, that is their prerogative, Caskey said.
Caskey did not receive any NRA funds last year.
"Caskey has never taken a dime of NRA money and he's proud of it," said Greg Pugh, the Vice-President of the Second Amendment Coalition.
The grass-roots organizations are also distancing themselves from the NRA for the moment. One gun-rights activist said the national organization brings "a lot of baggage" to the debate.
Supporters say they are fearful of alienating politicians who might be leery of being seen to be "in bed with a special interest" like the NRA, said one concealed weapons supporter.