As gun control remains a hot button issue across the nation, Pettis County voters will weigh in Aug. 5 by choosing to support or not Constitutional Amendment No. 5, which declares the state obligated to uphold “unalienably” the right to bear arms, adds the right to protect family and strikes language regarding concealed carry from the Missouri Constitution.
The official ballot question asks, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is an unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?”
Missouri State Auditor Thomas Schweich added the following language to the ballot question: “State and local governmental entities should have no direct costs or savings from this proposal. However, the proposal’s passage will likely lead to increased litigation and criminal justice related costs. The total potential costs are unknown, but could be significant.”
Pettis County Sheriff Keven Bond said he supports Second Amendment rights and this measure wholeheartedly, but added it does pose several questions. He said he sees Constitutional Amendment No. 5 as a proclamation, rather than an actual change in current law, adding that he understands the rationale behind placing the measure on the ballot.
“We have the right to keep and bear arms in the United States Constitution, however, when you look nationwide at actions by states or the federal government, we see a constant drumbeat to limit that,” Bond said. “Some states, particularly in larger cities, along the east coast and in Illinois have very strict gun regulations, to the point where people are not allowed to have guns in their homes or anything that pertains to shooting.”
What the ballot question fails to set forth are what specific changes will be made to Section 23 of the Missouri Constitution, which is related to the rights of Missourians to keep and bear arms.
Specifically, one thing the amendment adds, among other caveats, is that the people also have the right to keep and bear “ammunition and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms.”
“Normal functions. That brings up another issue,” Bond said. “A few years ago, there was an expansion to allow suppressors. There is a process in place now that allows a person to get a suppressor. They have to get approval from the sheriff, but I have determined if you want a suppressor, you are going to come into my office and answer why you need one. Not that I am against that, but that is not a normal accessory and can be used for nefarious purposes.”
The measure adds the word “family” to the list of things that can be defended with a firearm alongside, home, person and property.
“It puts an additional self-protection for family. Right now, you have the right to protect yourself and property, but that specifically extends that to include family,” Bond said. “It gives the ability to protect your wife, your kids. If your family is being threatened, you have the right to step in, and that will be off your property.”
Then there is the “unalienable” right language in the amendment. What exactly does unalienable mean in regards to firearm possession? Some critics argue the measure will put guns in the hands of criminals or the mentally ill, but an exclusion allows the assembly to enact laws to prevent that from happening.
“It specifically says this does not prohibit the legislature from restricting the carrying of possession by felons and people that are judged mentally incompetent,” Bond said.
It also strikes language from the Missouri Constitution that separates concealed weapons from traditional second amendment rights.
“Obviously there are a lot of questions that this amendment if it passes will bring up,” Bond said. “Probably the biggest is the concealed weapons portion. The question that I have is will that take away CCW permits in Missouri, and I cannot answer that. That is something that will have to be decided far higher up than me.”
What changes will come to the courts? If the measure passes, Missouri will have some of the most secure gun ownership rights in the nation.
“This amendment raises the standard from a reasonable consideration to a strict interpretation,” Bond said. “So, it’s directing the courts, and really the state of Missouri as well, that they have to vigorously defend people’s rights rather than just look at it from a reasonable standpoint.”
Gun rights have been on the forefront of national and state politics for many years compounded by school shootings, public shootings and other heinous crimes. The sheriff, and many others, said he believes the current gun debate is broken into two “camps.” On one side, the gun is a weapon and ownership, rights and usage should be limited.
“Those who see the gun as purely a weapon are in typically urban areas,” Bond said. “Anytime another shooting occurs, is a reason to say we need to take guns out of the hands of people. And I understand that. If you are in an urban area, where you have no ability to see a gun as anything other than killing friends and family and neighbors, you can have a different outlook.”
The other camp sees guns as a tool, or a means to a lifestyle, used for sport hunting and self-defense.
“Yet the other camp is saying, when we have killings, guns are not the common detonator,” Bond said. “This week we had a knifing here in town, I’ve worked cases where people have been killed with a ball bat. This chair could be used as a weapon. I always have a gun on me and that gun is a tool. It’s not any different than that pencil that I have that could be used as a weapon as well.”