Missouri Attempts to Strengthen the Right to Bear Arms

Missouri legislators have submitted a proposal to state voters that would significantly strengthen the state’s constitutional right to bear arms.  After receiving overwhelming support in both the Missouri Senate and the Missouri House, the proposal seeks to change the state constitution by forcing all gun restriction legislation to receive “strict scrutiny” analysis – the strongest level of legal review.

Missouri’s Proposed Right to Bear Arms

The proposed amendment to Missouri’s Constitution would change the language on the right to bear arms to read as follows (additions to current language in bold, language removed is stricken through):

That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms, ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms, in defense of his home, person, family and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weaponsThe rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable.  Any restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny and the state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and shall under no circumstances decline to protect against their infringement.  Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted felons or those adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others as a result of a mental disorder or mental infirmity.

On June 30th, Missouri’s attorney general approved the all-important ballot summary that voters will see to read as follows:

A “yes” vote will amend the Missouri Constitution to expand the right to keep and bear arms to include ammunition and related accessories for such arms.  This amendment also removes the language that states the right to keep and bear arms does not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.  This amendment does not prevent the legislature from limiting the rights of certain felons and certain individuals adjudicated as having a mental disorder.

A “no” vote will not amend the Missouri Constitution regarding arms, ammunition, and accessories for such arms.

Voters across the state will ultimately decide whether or not enforce the amendment to the state’s constitution and elevate the right to own firearms to a highly protected status.

Understanding Missouri’s Proposed Change in Gun Rights

Reading Missouri’s proposed amendment highlights a few important aspects of the law that could have significant changes in gun ownership rights:

  • Ammunition and gun accessories gain equal status as firearms.  This language is likely a response to several pieces of gun legislation across the country that restrict access to ammunition in an effort to effectively restrict use of firearms.
  • The language excluding concealed weapons from the right to keep and bear arms is removed – meaning that Missouri citizens would be allowed to carry concealed firearms.
  • Most importantly, the amendment makes it very difficult to pass a law in Missouri that restricts gun ownership.  Strict scrutiny review means that any law restricting gun ownership must undergo rigorous analysis by the legal system to show that the law: is justified by a compelling government interest, is narrowly tailored to achieve that interest, and achieves this interest by the least restrictive means possible.  Laws that satisfy all three criteria are exceedingly rare, and strict scrutiny protection is typically reserved for such fundamental rights as racial equality and religious freedom. 

It is also important to highlight that proposed change in gun ownership rights is an amendment to the state’s constitution.  A law accomplishing the same goals can be repealed by legislators, but undoing a change to the constitution is significantly more onerous.  Louisiana, which changed its constitution to provide for strict scrutiny on gun restriction law, is the only state to take such significant action thus far.

Legal Challenge to Missouri’s Gun Right Proposal

Before the gun right proposal can hit the August 5th ballot, Missouri’s Supreme Court will hear a challenge designed to stop the measure before it reaches voters.  Opponents to the proposal argue that the summary statement presented to voters in the ballot box fails to sufficiently explain the initiative by: 1) omitting the fact that Missouri’s Constitution already has some measure of protection for the right to bear arms, and 2) omitting critical information about how difficult it will become for Missouri legislators to enact gun restriction legislation.

Legal briefs filed by opponents to the proposal can be found here and here, and Missouri’s high court will hear arguments on the matter on July 14th.  Should the proposal survive the legal challenge, it will be submitted to Missouri citizens on August 5th.  Given the attention gun ownership has received at both federal and state levels, state governments across the country will be keeping a close eye on how the battle over the right to bear arms plays out in Missouri.

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