JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri voters, not their lawmakers, could decide whether to make Missouri a state that allows its citizens to carry concealed weapons under a bill passed Thursday by the Missouri House.
Although Gov. Mel Carnahan has said that he opposes allowing concealed weapons, his chief of staff said the governor would not veto a bill that would put the issue before the voters to decide.
"He's always supported if you're going to advance it, it ought to go to a vote of the people," said Brad Ketcher.
Missouri is one of seven states that does not allow citizens to carry concealed weapons. The sponsor of the measure, Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, said changing the law will reduce crime, but it will be difficult to measure by how much.
"Most of the crime this will deter will never be reported -- an individual was going to get mugged, but he didn't" because the would-be mugger saw the weapon, said Crump, a former deputy sheriff.
But the superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said he opposes allowing concealed weapons.
"I'm concerned about anything that puts more weapons out there," said Col. Weldon Wilhoit.
Crump said that a poll taken in Missouri by the National Rifle Association showed 59 percent of the people polled supported a conceal and carry law.
Supporters of concealed weapons, confident that they have the numbers in the legislature to pass such a measure, would prefer that lawmakers vote on the bill. But because Gov. Carnahan has said he would veto any such measure, their only other option is putting the issue on the statewide ballot.
Ironically, it's concealed weapons' opponents that favor a statewide referendum, believing that the voters will defeat the measure handily and move the issue to the back burner.
A statewide referendum can be placed on the ballot by either the legislature or via the petition process, which requires proponents of the issue to gather thousands of signatures, present them to the secretary of state and request the petition question be placed on the ballot.
The bill next goes to the Senate for debate.