Missouri residents old enough to legally drink alcohol also could get permits to carry concealed guns under legislation given final approval Friday in the last hour of Missouri's annual legislative session.
The legislation would repeal the current minimum age of 23 that was set when lawmakers overrode a veto by then-Gov. Bob Holden to enact a concealed-carry law in 2003. Instead, it would allow people to get conceal-carry permits beginning at age 21.
The House passed the bill 125-25 on Friday, following a 27-6 vote Wednesday by the Senate. The bill now goes to Gov. Jay Nixon.
Nixon spokesman Scott Holste declined to say whether the governor supports lowering the age to obtain concealed gun permits, saying only that the bill will receive a thorough review.
Most states have laws allowing residents who meet certain qualifications to carry concealed gun. The National Rifle Association says Missouri's current age restriction is the highest among states that allow concealed gun permits. The most common threshold is age 21, though some states grant concealed gun permits to people as young as 18 and a few states allow people to carry hidden guns without need of a government permit.
The bill lowering the state's age threshold "is a milestone event here in Missouri to allow law-abiding citizens to protect themselves," said Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, one of the bill's sponsors.
The legislation passed with barely a hint of the contention that had dominated the concealed-guns debate in Missouri for more than a decade.
Missouri lawmakers pushing for concealed gun permits had been rebuffed for years by some Senate Democrats, including former Gov. Mel Carnahan, before they finally agreed to put the issue to a statewide vote in April 1999. The ballot measure - the first ever in the nation on the issue - was rejected by 52 percent of the vote, with strong urban opposition overcoming rural support.
Four years later, the Legislature enacted a law allowing concealed gun permits by passing legislation and overriding Holden's veto. That occurred by the slimmest possible margin - needing the votes of then-Sen. Jon Dolan, who took a leave of absence from a military deployment in Guantanamo Bay, and then-Sen. Michael Gibbons, who switched from a "'no" vote on the bill's passage to a "yes" vote on the veto override.
Gibbons cited Missouri's age requirements as one of the provisions that made the concealed guns law among the more restrictive possible and thus helped make him feel comfortable voting for it. Gibbons, who now is a lobbyist, said in retrospect that he also would have supported the veto override if the age limit had originally been set at 21.
Munzlinger had proposed this year to lower the minimum age necessary for a concealed gun permit to 18. But he settled on 21 as a compromise with other lawmakers who were hesitant to go that low.
"I had very, very strong concerns about lowering it down to 18," said Sen. Joseph Keaveny, D-St. Louis. But "I'm happy with what he's done with the age."
Keaveny nonetheless was one of the six senators - all Democrats - who voted against the bill. All the "no" votes in the House also were from Democrats.
The bill's House sponsor, Rep. Jeannie Riddle, R-Mokane, said she believes the age still should be lowered to 18 and hopes to revisit the issue in a future legislative session.
"Missourians, and all Americans, are considered adults at age 18 for nearly every purpose," she said.
The legislation also would change one of the training requirements for getting a concealed gun permit to mandate that people shoot at least 50 rounds each with a revolver and a semiautomatic pistol instead of a total of 50 rounds with any handgun.
Although guns otherwise are prohibited at the Missouri Capitol, the legislation would allow state elected officials and their employees to carry concealed firearms in the building if they have permits.
Guns bill is HB294.