By Kurt Erickson
Gun rights supporters began counting down to Sept. 14 on Monday after Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed a Republican-led plan to loosen state gun laws.
The mid-September date is the lone day set aside by lawmakers to override vetoes by the Democratic chief executive. The sweeping rewrite of firearms laws is expected to be high on the agenda.
"I think we're pretty committed to standing for people's constitutional right to bear arms," said Rep. Rick Brattin, R-Harrisonville, who said the governor's action was not surprising. "I think the chances of overriding are pretty good. I think our numbers are strong, and we think this will become law."
The measure, which would allow people to carry concealed weapons without permits, was approved in the House on a 114-36 vote, with three Democrats voting "yes." An override would need 109 votes. Even if those Democrats were to reverse their positions and side with Nixon on an override, those votes could be offset by six Republicans who were absent when the bill was debated on May 13.
One of those Democrats, Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, told the Post-Dispatch that he's switching his position.
"While I support components of SB 656, after hearing concerns from first responders I will be standing with our law enforcement community and upholding the governor's veto," said Webber, who is running for a seat in the Senate.
In the Senate, where Senate Bill 656 was approved 24-8, supporters of the bill need 23 votes to overcome Nixon's veto.
House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, also predicted a successful override in September.
"This is why the people of Missouri elected a supermajority of conservative supporters of the Second Amendment to the House and the Senate. Senate Bill 656 is the first meaningful step forward on gun rights in over a decade; it passed both chambers with more than enough votes to override the governor's veto," Richardson said.
The Senate sponsor of the package, Republican Brian Munzlinger of Williamstown, called the governor's veto "shocking."
"In an era when we see radical Islamic terrorists shifting their focus to attacks on targets such as employee Christmas parties in San Bernardino or nightclubs in Orlando, we should be doing all we can to make sure the citizens of Missouri have the ability to protect themselves," Munzlinger said.
Nixon, who discussed his veto Monday at the Missouri Police Chiefs Association annual conference, said the proposal goes too far when it comes to making it legal to carry a gun without first getting a permit from a local sheriff.
"I cannot support the extreme step of throwing out that process entirely, eliminating sensible protections like background checks and training requirements and taking away the ability of sheriffs to protect their communities," Nixon said in a statement.
In his veto message, Nixon provided examples of individuals who could automatically carry a concealed weapon if the law is enacted, including those who have pleaded guilty to a felony and received a suspended imposition of sentence; individuals who have been convicted of misdemeanor assault; and individuals with two or more misdemeanor drug possession convictions.
"Allowing currently prohibited individuals to automatically be able to carry concealed would make Missouri less safe," he wrote.
The measure also would create a "stand your ground" rule allowing someone to use a gun to defend themselves if they feel threatened. It also would create a lifetime concealed carry permit. And it would expand who can use a firearm in defense of a home to include a relative or baby sitter.
Nixon has support from law enforcement groups, including the Missouri Police Chiefs Association and the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police.
"Make no mistake, we are staunch supporters of the Second Amendment. We feel, however, that the enactment of SB 656, specifically the allowance of giving anyone not currently prohibited from possessing a firearm the ability to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, will cost not only citizen lives but will also be extremely dangerous to law enforcement officers," said Missouri FOP Executive Director Kevin Ahlbrand.
Becky Morgan of the Missouri Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America said her group also is dedicated to keeping the veto intact.
The National Rifle Association condemned Nixon's decision, saying the proposal was designed to help people protect themselves.
"If events in Orlando and San Bernardino have taught us anything it's that the need for self-protection can occur anywhere at any time," said Lacey Biles, director of NRA State and Local Affairs. "With this veto, Gov. Nixon proves he is more concerned about scoring political points with out-of-state gun control groups than securing the safety of law-abiding Missourians."
The measure also quickly became fodder for the campaign trail, heading toward the Aug. 2 primary election.
"I am disappointed that Gov. Nixon vetoed this bill aimed at preserving our Second Amendment right, but I am hopeful the Legislature will be able to override this decision in September," Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee's Summit, who is running for secretary of state.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Catherine Hanaway said she would assist a veto override effort "in all ways possible."
"The General Assembly should override his veto to ensure all law-abiding Missourians have the right to protect themselves," said Hanaway.
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