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South county legislators divided over judge's concealed weapons decision

A St. Louis County Circuit Court judge's ruling blocking the state's new concealed weapons law on constitutional grounds has state legislators representing south county split along party lines — just as they were over the passage of the measure.

In a ruling handed down last Friday, St. Louis County Circuit Judge Steven Ohmer ordered a temporary injunction, citing a clause in the Missouri Constitution, which states that the right of citizens to keep and bear arms "shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.''

The judge's ruling came after a three-day hearing on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the concealed weapons law.

Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon has asked the state Supreme Court to set aside Ohmer's ruling.

The issue of concealed weapons has had the six state representatives from south county split along party lines with Repub-licans in favor and Democrats opposed.

The concealed weapons legislation was approved by the Legislature last spring, but vetoed by Gov. Bob Holden. But during last month's veto session, legislators successfully overrode the veto with Repub-licans Jim Lembke of Lemay, Jim Avery of Crestwood and Walt Bivins of Oakville in favor and Democrats Michael Vogt of Affton, Patricia Yaeger of Lemay and Sue Schoemehl of Oakville opposed.

In the Senate, Republican Anita Yeckel of Sunset Hills voted in favor of overriding the governor's veto.

Contacted by the Call last week, Yeckel and Vogt differed over Ohmer's ruling.

Yeckel said that the opponents of the concealed weapons legislation never raised the constitutional provision during floor debate.

"The Legislature has complied with the state Constitution by giving the people the specific right to carry a concealed weap-on,'' Yeckel said. "The constitutional ban (against wearing concealed weapons) is a prohibition against relying solely on the constitutional right to carry as justification for carrying a concealed weapon."

Vogt said, "The constitutional provision is quite clear and I am reasonably sure that the Supreme Court will uphold the decision of the lower court. If people are to have the right to wear a concealed weapon, the Con-stitution must be amended in accordance with the provisions of Article XII."

However, Vogt said that the "soccer moms" with whom he comes into contact are more concerned with a provision of the new law that grants to anyone 21 or older the right to have a weapon in his or her vehicle.

"There are no safeguards, such as training

and a background check. A mental patient, 21 years old, may have a weapon in the automobile and this is not illegal," Vogt said.

This provision will stand even if the concealed carry portion of the bill is ruled unconstitutional, according to Vogt.

Furthermore, Vogt pointed out, the constitutional restriction applies to "wearing" a concealed weapon.

"Carrying a weapon," he said, "in a purse may not violate the constitutional restriction."

Some of these issues will have to be ad-dressed by Legislature during the next session, he believes.

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