JEFFERSON CITY - With the gun control debate up in Missouri’s state Capitol, the state Department of Revenue found itself under fire this past week from Republicans who say drivers’ license offices have been gather data on the state’s gun owners and illegally feeding that information into a federal security database.
Lawmakers and the state’s lieutenant governor all said that the license offices have been installing new equipment that scans information from concealed carry permits and drivers’ licenses and then transmits that information to third-party companies who then forward it to the federal Department of Homeland Security.
That practice, they all say, is in direct violation of a Missouri state law that makes a person’s concealed-carry status a part of their private personal information.
The first volleys in the controversy sounded Monday, when Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder held a rare press conference to throw his support behind a lawsuit filed in Stoddard County that seeks to stop the data collection.
The lawsuit alleges that a man there was denied a concealed-carry endorsement on his driver’s license in March when he refused to allow staff at the local license office to scan documents related to his permit into their database.
A judge in Stoddard County issued a restraining order temporarily barring license offices from collecting the data. Another hearing in the case is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12.
Kinder also sent a letter to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon asking to meet with him about the issue. But later in the week, the Republican said Nixon hadn’t reached out to him.
"We're trying to get answers from the Governor, and he is stonewalling us,” Kinder said. “He cannot hide forever, he will have to come forward and give us some answers."
On Wednesday, state Rep. Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, filed legislation to explicitly bar the Department of Revenue from scanning and transmitting the information. House Speaker Tim Jones said he wants he’ll be “fast-tracking” that measure.
“We know few details at present, but the details we do know are very disturbing,” Jones said.
And Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, and Rep. Paul Curtman piled on further, saying the actions of the license offices support a federal gun control agenda being pushed by the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama.
"Being able to store all of us in a national database, I think it is an issue of deeply intrusive government going way too far,” said Curtman, R-Pacific.
Groups that advocate for fewer restrictions on gun ownership have long voiced their fears about a federal database of guns and gun owners. They say the assembly of such a database could be the first step in a plan to confiscate all legally registered weapons in the country.
And the controversy strikes at a particularly sensitive moment in Missouri, where lawmakers from both parties have been pushing gun bills in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Connecticut late last year.
Democrats have pressed the need for greater restrictions on guns to curb violence in the state’s urban areas, while Republicans have vehemently called for measures that reiterate the Second Amendment’s language about the right to bear arms.
Several Republican lawmakers have said they are fearful that Congress might pass a gun control law in reaction to the Connecticut shooting that could lead to the banning or confiscation of certain guns nationwide.
It is still unclear whether the information gathering is happening as Republicans say it is and to what extent. Multiple phone messages left for the revenue department, which oversees the license offices, were unreturned as of late Thursday. And a spokesman for Nixon also didn’t return a phone message by press time.
Editor's note: MDN reporters Luke Lyddon, Miica Patterson and Alex Mallin contributed to this report.