The Missouri Supreme Court was asked Tuesday afternoon to order changes in one of the five proposed amendments to the state's Constitution that lawmakers have put on the ballot, and that voters will be asked to approve in just three weeks.
The Legislature this year adopted Sen. Kurt Schaefer's proposed change to the state's existing constitutional "right to bear arms" language in Article I, Section 23.
It currently reads: "That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms in defense of his home, person and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned; but this shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons."
Lawmakers want voters to add "ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms" after the words "bear arms."
They want voters to add "family" after the word "person" in the list of things being defended.
And they want to replace all the words after "shall not be questioned" with several new sentences: "The rights guaranteed by this section shall be unalienable. Any restriction on these rights shall be subject to strict scrutiny and the state of Missouri shall be obligated to uphold these rights and under no circumstances decline to protect these rights against their infringement. Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the general assembly from enacting general laws which limit the rights of convicted felons or those
adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others as result of a mental disorder or mental infirmity."
But, Jefferson City lawyer Chuck Hatfield told the high court Tuesday, the actual language on the Aug. 5 ballot doesn't give voters enough information about the changes they're being asked to approve.
"The question before this court is, is this ballot summary a fair and impartial explanation of the changes that the voters will vote on," Hatfield said, "and, if it's not, what are you going to do about it?
"When one reads this title, does it let the voters know that we are enshrining in the Constitution a change in the judicial standard of review, to impose the highest standard of review - strict scrutiny - that has not previously been the standard?"
He also wondered if voters would understand that, by voting for the proposed amendment, they would be "removing language from the Missouri Constitution that allows the regulation of carrying of concealed weapons."
Lawmakers wrote the ballot language, which says: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to include a declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is a unalienable right and that the state government is obligated to uphold that right?"
Hatfield agreed that state law doesn't require that every proposed change be included in the ballot language.
Jefferson City lawyer Heidi Vollet, representing the prosecuting attorneys in St. Louis City and Jackson County, reminded the court that state law already requires the ballot language to be "a true and impartial statement of the purposes of the proposed measure, using language that is not intentionally argumentative nor likely to create prejudice."
Vollet said the high court should rewrite the ballot language because "it changes the (current) right, and it, wrongly, suggests that it's making a declaration that "the right' as it currently exists is being made "unalienable' when it, in fact, is the significantly changed right that would be made unalienable."
But Assistant Attorney General Jeremiah Morgan said the language does not "restate existing rights."
Instead, he said, "The purpose of this is to give notice to the voters of the purpose of the ballot measure, (which) is fairly expressed by saying that this includes the declaration that the right to keep and bear arms is unalienable."
And Schaefer, R-Columbia, said that passing the proposed amendment would bring Missouri into line with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
"The court finally said, this is not contingent on a militia or anything else," Schaefer said. "This is an individual right and, the court said, it is a right of the highest regard."