In a dramatic chain of events involving a gubernatorial veto and subsequent legislative override, Missouri’s gun laws are becoming less rigid and more complex.
This article will help you understand the new gun laws from a criminal attorney’s point of view, examine the impact permitless Missouri concealed carry law and castle doctrine expansion (also called Stand Your Ground) have on firearm incidents and learn about the potential criminal law scenarios for gun owners.
How are Missouri’s Gun Laws Changing?
After a contentious fight between Governor Jay Nixon and Republican lawmakers, Senate Bill 656 was passed with a veto override. Some portions of the bill have already gone into effect, while other provisions will begin on October 14, 2016.
The most controversial piece of SB 656 will become effective January 1, 2017. The restrictions on carrying a concealed firearm in Missouri will be greatly relaxed along with a significant expansion of castle doctrine, also known as a “stand your ground law.”
The “stand your ground” statutes first received national attention in 2012 with the Trayvon Martin shooting and trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of murder charges.
The Three Most Significant Provisions in the New Law:
- Permitless Concealed Carry
- Castle Doctrine Expansion
- Minor Changes for State CCW Permit
Permitless Concealed Carry
All Missouri residents who are at least 19 years of age, and who are not otherwise prevented from possessing firearms under state or federal law, will be allowed to carry a concealed firearm on their person without the need to go through the permitting and qualification process.
Expansion of the Castle Doctrine
Other changes include expansion of Missouri’s castle doctrine that will now allow for lawful guests to defend the property as though it were their own, and other language that all but removes the legal need to retreat before using deadly force.
One of the confusing things about the legal landscape of gun laws across the country is the diversity of laws and statutes between states..
The Castle Doctrine is a common law principle stating that an individual has no duty to retreat when in his or her home prior to using reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves and their home. In some states, these rights also extend to one’s business or property, such as while in a automobile. In contrast, a stand your ground law is commonly associated with legislation, like Florida and now Missouri, that removes the need to be in a certain location, such as a home, before using deadly force, and instead empowers gun owners to defend themselves outside of their home or property. With the passage of S.B. 656 Missouri gun owners will have benefit of both types of law, and will not be required to retreat, wherever they may be, prior to using deadly force.
Minor Changes for State CCW Permit
While this change in law will make it legal to carry a concealed firearm in Missouri (in most but not all places), the concealed-carry permit system will remain in place with minor changes, such as the addition of permit options that include extended or lifetime permits, and allow active duty military members additional time in which to renew their permit.
For anyone intending to travel and wanting to take a concealed firearm, Missouri residents will still need to have a CCW permit because most states that allow for permit-carry, even if they have reciprocity with Missouri CCW permit holders, will not yet recognize the “constitutional-carry” rights of a resident from another state.
Anticipated Effects of Permitless Carry and Castle Doctrine Expansion
When read in relation to other state and federal laws related to the possession and use of firearms and deadly force, the ever-changing laws on concealed-carry are becoming even more complex.
What is clear is that in the current political climate regarding Second Amendment rights, these new changes in Missouri law will most certainly mean that there will be more people carrying firearms on their person, and in their vehicles.
Three Areas New Laws Will Have Impact:
- More firearms being carried will mean more accidents
- A likely increase in the number of stolen firearms from vehicles
- More “stand your ground” shooting situations
With more firearms carried in glove boxes, purses, bags, pockets, and the infinite variety of holster options, the simple truth is that there will be more accidental discharges, dropped firearms in public places, and accidents involving children and unsecured weapons. With more firearms in purses and vehicles will come a likely increase of more stolen firearms. According to the CDC, gun deaths now outpace motor vehicle accident deaths in 21 states.
As Springfield Police Chief, Paul Williams stated when he spoke to KY3 News about SB 656, “I guarantee you everyone of those folks is going to go out there and get a gun and carry it around now.” While this may be an overstatement, the simple truth is that there will be many people who feel that they have to buy a firearm because everyone else is doing it.
Another result of this environment is that shootings and firearms cases involving private citizens are likely to increase. Private citizens often feel empowered to use or display their firearm in a variety of situations where deadly force has no legal place or justification. Almost everyone has experienced some form of road rage incident. Yelling vulgar language or making gestures, and horn honking are not uncommon. However, more and more of these incidents are now involving the display of a firearm as a way to respond to harsh language or rude gestures. In Missouri, this is already in the spotlight with a recent case in St. Louis involving a 13-year-old who was fatally shot while breaking into a car.
As the scope of Second Amendment rights continues to expand, the number of scenarios faced by gun carrying citizens continues to increase and it becomes less clear for the gun owner what is or is not legal justification to use their firearm. What citizens must understand is that in every situation where there is a police report of displaying or discharging a firearm, especially where someone is shot or killed, the prosecutor will make a very critical review of that case to decide whether or not a criminal charge will be filed. It is in the details of each scenario that the application of these new laws becomes very complicated and unclear.
There is statistical evidence to support that the volume of incidents goes up in states that adopt a castle expansion or “stand your ground” law.
Cheng Cheng and Mark Hoekstra from Texas A&M wrote the most detailed study of this in 2012. They looked at 21 states, between 2000-2010, that adopted stand your ground laws to assess the impact before and after the new legislation. Compared to the 29 states that pass no legislation, on average the stand your ground states had a 46% increase in cases of justifiable homicide and an 8.1% increase in murders.
The study doesn’t make clear causation analysis, but it’s reasonable to infer that one way or the other, incidents involving firearms in Missouri are likely to go up.
Despite New Laws, There is still a Gray Area on Guns
Even when you firmly believe in your legal right to have used that firearm, the police investigation that will follow, and the possible consequences to you, can be life changing, and with a very real threat of criminal prosecution for charges ranging from unlawful use of a weapon, or felony assault, to manslaughter or murder.
The decision by a private citizen to use of deadly force is almost always a decision made in a split second under extreme duress and fear. In such a stressful situation, it’s difficult to assess whether or not this fits the legal definition of Missouri’s castle doctrine. This creates a terribly difficult situation for the police investigating the incident and the prosecutors who are left to make a determination on whether they will bring charges.
Authorities in Missouri have already had a difficult time navigating the implementation of the castle doctrine and it appears it will only get more muddled. Even in Springfield, Missouri, there have been high-profile incidents with wildly different witness accounts of what happened, and where a true account of the events was not clear.
Even if prosecutors decline to file criminal charges, gun owners who choose to use their firearm also sometimes find themselves subjected to civil lawsuit, based upon their display or use of a firearm, by the individual shot or shot at, or their families, or even by innocent bystanders.
It is important to know that the legal right to carry a firearm, brings with it the obligation to know when and how to use it, and how to keep it secured. Our office has defended and represented many individuals, legally authorized to carry concealed firearms, who found themselves involved in the use or display of deadly force, including cases where individuals who have been shot and killed. If you are involved in such a situation, it is imperative that you DO NOT allow yourself to be interviewed by police investigators until you have an experienced attorney present with you. Even if you are absolutely certain that you have done nothing legally wrong, you must have an attorney experienced in these matters to help you navigate the complexities of these laws.