JEFFERSON CITY - A campaign to give Missourians the right to carry concealed weapons is at the forefront of the House's agenda. In previous years, such legislation has been killed by fillibusters and political maneuvering. Competing factions have reached an agreement in the last weeks of this year's legislative session, opening the door to place the issue on the ballot this November.
The sponsor, Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, said he expects the House to debate the bill on Monday.
Local gun groups have provided the strongest public opposition to the bill. A scheduled Saturday meeting of these local groups leaves open the possibility that they may reverse their position just days before the House takes up the bill for debate.
In previous years, the bill has snagged on Governor Mel Carnahan's demand that the issue be put before the voters. Carnahan has promised to veto any bill without a referendum provision. If the legislature approves a referendum, the measure would bypass the governor's desk and proceed straight to the ballot.
Local gun groups have thus far opposed the referendum. They packed a House hearing last month with more than 100 of its members and argued that carrying a concealed weapon is a Second Amendment right that should not be subject to a vote. They also opposed the referendum because of its costs.
Legislators, meanwhile, argue that although they may support concealed weapons legislation, a bill without a referendum provision is doomed to failure.
Tim Oliver, lobbyist for gun rights group Missouri Legislative Issues Council, said there was some discussion among the membership about reconsidering the referendum issue.
"There's been some talk about this," Oliver said.
Representatives of MOLIC, an umbrella organization of local gun groups, will be meeting this Saturday, Oliver said. Oliver declined to speculate on whether the groups would change their position.
Crump, a former deputy sheriff, said that debate on his bill was not postponed because of the upcoming meeting of gun groups. But Crump did express hope that he could win their support.
"I hope they will go along with the referendum," Crump said.
Fred Myers, state liaison for the Institute for Legislative Action, the Nation Rifle Association's political and lobbying arm, said that an NRA poll conducted two weeks ago showed that its members supported a referendum. He said that the NRA did not support the referendum in the past because it had not known whether it would have its members' support.
But despite the NRA's latest information, the organization is maintaining a neutral position on Crump's bill.
"We did not support it because a number of local groups have come out against the referendum," Myers said. "We decided it was best to take a neutral position."