HAPPY NEW YEAR
The End of a Personal Twelve-Year Odyssey, or
Hey, Bartender! Tell Everyone in the House the Drinks are on Me!
By John Ross
Copyright 2003 by John Ross. Electronic reproduction of this article freely permitted provided it is reproduced in its entirety with attribution given.
I am still on a high from what happened last Thursday. Vanquishing your enemies, crushing their skulls, and drinking their blood* will do that to you. Some background:
Missouri, where I live, is the only state north of the Mason-Dixon line where slavery was ever permitted by law. Missouri was also home to Dred Scott and the Supreme Court’s infamous Dred Scott vs. Sanford decision of 1857, which ruled that free blacks were not citizens. As Chief Justice Roger Taney pointed out, if free blacks were considered citizens,
“It would give to persons of the negro race, who were recognized as citizens in any one State of the Union, the right to enter every other State whenever they pleased, singly or in companies, without pass or passport, and without obstruction, to sojourn there as long as they pleased, to go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night without molestation, unless they committed some violation of law for which a white man would be punished; and it would give them the full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects upon which its own citizens might speak; to hold public meetings upon political affairs, and to keep and carry arms wherever they went.”
As you might well imagine, decent white people in Southern states during the mid-1800s did not want to endure this kind of outrage. So after the Civil War, the white ruling classes in the State Legislatures in Missouri and the other former slave states had to put on their thinking caps. It was no longer legal to have a law that said “Negroes are prohibited from voting, freely assembling, or owning guns.” Creativity was now needed.
The legislators passed laws that said blacks had to pass literacy tests and pay poll taxes before they could vote. Guns were trickier. Some Southern states enacted laws banning the ownership of all guns not made by Colt or Winchester, as these were quality arms whose price was sufficiently high that only white people could afford them. Missouri, with less subtlety, passed a law in 1874 that prohibited the carrying of any weapon for the purposes of self-protection, including (and I am not making this up), a slingshot. In 1874, it was a simple matter to enforce this law only on blacks, as the police and sheriffs in Missouri were all white.
This was exactly what happened, just as the legislators had intended. With blacks disarmed, the Klan was free to make sure they didn’t “go where they pleased at every hour of the day or night” or have “full liberty of speech in public and in private upon all subjects.” Lynchings were common here in Missouri long after the Civil War. The prohibition on carrying a weapon for protection was selectively enforced on blacks alone for a full 90 years, until the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964.**
As I grew up, I spent time in states outside Missouri and realized that my home state was one of only a few where it was completely illegal to carry a gun for protection. At age 18 I paid $10 to get a concealed weapons permit in Massachusetts, where I was going to college. When I worked as a pizza delivery driver there, it was a good thing to have.***
I moved back to Missouri in 1980. As time passed, other states abolished their Civil War-era victim disarmament laws, but not Missouri. In late December of 1991, a friend of mine and I were sitting in my study, discussing the outrage of our state leading the nation in arresting people carrying guns for self-protection. The NRA had never made any effort in the past to bring up concealed carry in the Missouri legislature, and my friend told me he had just talked to them again, and they had no interest in bringing it up now, either.
Then my friend and I looked at each other and had the exact same realization: We were ashamed of ourselves. Here we were, two smart, prosperous men, whining about the fact that a national organization wasn’t fixing an injustice in our own back yard, instead of doing something about it ourselves.
Five minutes later, we decided to each put up $10,000 to hire a lobbyist and get this last vestige of post-Civil War Jim Crow-ism struck from the Missouri lawbooks.
Within a week we found out about a man who had a good reputation in Jefferson City. He had apparently been a chronic doper in college who had almost flunked out, and thereby had a come-to-Jesus meeting about his future. From then on he had tackled the whole work ethic thing with great zeal, and was now a respected professional lobbyist who had become very effective at guiding bills through the legislature. The lobbyist met with us and pointed out that we could undoubtedly get dispensations from the Governor or something similar for a lot less than $20,000. My friend explained that we already had police and other creds that exempted the two of us from the carry prohibition, but we wanted to make it so average people could protect themselves in Missouri, not just smart rich guys that know how to jigger the system.
The lobbyist gave us a strange look, and to this day I think we were the only clients who ever hired him to get a law passed on a moral principle rather than a financial benefit. In any event, he assured us we could get a good CCW bill passed that year with his help. He found us a Democrat in the House, Joe Driskill, who liked our idea and offered to introduce a bill if we would draft a good one.
I asked Rep. Driskill if we could just abolish the entire statute and be like Vermont. He told us that wouldn’t fly in a state like Missouri, and for me to rough out something that I could live with. I went to the library and got out the Indiana statutes and used them as a model for our proposed bill. Within 48 hours it was typed up and scheduled for a committee hearing.
Driskill explained that there were some people on the committee that we would need to sway if the bill was going to be released to the floor for a vote. By now some other friends had gotten wind of what my friend and I were doing, and suddenly there was even more money in the war chest, so we began planning what was to become the most talked-about committee hearing in Jefferson City.
Greg Jeffery arranged for a Florida sheriff who had originally opposed Florida’s concealed carry to come testify that he was now a supporter, and why. Joe Driskill took an editorial I’d written and turned it into an oral presentation that made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. And Neal Knox, my friend of many years, arranged for Suzanne Gratia, a chiropractor from Texas, to come testify. We saved her for last, and her testimony blew everyone away.
Suzanne was with her parents in the Luby’s cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, on the day that George Hennard drove his truck through the front window, got out with two pistols and lots of spare mags, and began killing people. Hennard walked around the cafeteria calmly executing the customers for eleven minutes before the police arrived. Suzanne had a gun, but it was locked in the car since it was a felony to have a gun with you on your person after you exited your car, and she didn’t want to risk losing her chiropractic license. So as a reward for not risking her license, she got to watch Hennard murder both her parents during the longest eleven minutes of her life.
I was stunned when the committee voted not to release our bill. I was told that the chairman, Ronnie White, had decided the bill was being pushed by a bunch of white guys so they could shoot blacks, and refused to let it out of committee.**** Driskill and our lobbyist told us not to worry, and promptly found another house rep who liked our bill and attached it to a bill of his that was already being debated on the House floor.
Then all hell began to break loose.
It seemed as if EVERYONE opposed concealed carry. The Highway Patrol came to the Capitol en masse to oppose the bill. So did the sheriff’s association. The newspapers hated us. Television news treated us like an interesting new species that had just been discovered. Concealed carry—what a ludicrous idea! I was on several televised debates, one with a Wellston police officer who said he would resign if the measure passed. I felt like I had wandered into an asylum—didn’t anyone ever travel to other states, like Indiana, Florida, or dozens of others? And it was absolutely surreal to listen to black legislators screaming about what an awful proposal this was, and showing such admiration for the 1874 measure that had been passed to help their ancestors get lynched.
Our bill passed the House with something like a 115-40 vote. Then things really started to get interesting.
The Senate was not so accommodating, and by now, all of the amateur politicians (like me) were getting our first taste of Political Negotiation Skills 101. Lesson Number One was that most (but not all) of the people in political positions that you negotiate with — and this includes the people you consider your supporters — will not negotiate in good faith. They will lie to you, they will go back on their word, and they will do it without a moment’s hesitation or a hint of remorse. It is a fact of life. The Sheriff’s Department was the first eye-opener. They discussed their concerns, and we agreed to a number of concessions they demanded in return for their support. After the bill was amended, surprise, surprise! They still were 100% opposed. We listened to Senators who wanted to co-sponsor our bill, only to later discover that these men had done so to gain the power to make sure the bill never became law. Finally, our lobbyist said he was receiving too much pressure from his other clients about the concealed carry issue and couldn’t work for us any longer.
We didn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate, but before the 1992 session ended, I told every Senator that civil rights issues, once they are brought up, never go away. Being able to protect yourself was at least as important as drinking out of a water fountain or sitting at a lunch counter, I explained. A bunch of cops using taxpayer money to lobby in the Capitol weren’t going to deter us any more than the police with their taxpayer-funded German Shepherds and water cannons had been able to stop the freedom marchers 30 years before, so get ready for Round Two in about seven months. A lot of Senators looked a little queasy when they heard that.
The next year, I couldn’t afford even half the price of a full-time lobbyist, but grassroots had grown a lot with the 1992 push, and supporters kept showing up to help. The legislators now claimed to want to know the experience of other concealed-carry states. I spent a lot of late nights doing what I believe was the first empirical analysis of the effect of concealed carry laws on violent crime, called Self-Defense Laws and Violent Crime Rates in the United States.***** The results surprised even me. As John Lott later proved with his much more thorough research, concealed carry saves lives.
Unfortunately, none of the legislators who said they wanted to know what the experience of other states had been ever bothered to read my study or even look at the data summary. A hundred hours of my time seemed to have been wasted, until I was later told that my study was one of the reasons key legislators in both Tennessee and Arizona got behind concealed carry in 1994 and passed it in those states.
We got the support in 1993 to pass bills in both House and Senate, but not ones with identical language. When the language is slightly different, the bills have to go to Conference Committee. It is easy to “run out the clock” in conference and have bills die at the end of the session, and that is exactly what happened. Again I told the Senators that civil rights issues never go away, we would be back with more support and more votes the next year, so be ready.
In 1994, a carry bill was introduced by a state Senator that none of us in the grassroots movement trusted any farther than we could spit a mouthful of fishhooks. He had NRA’s endorsement, as he was a life member. Sure enough, when we got down to the wire, he added a statewide referendum to the measure, which would have put it to a public vote. You don’t put civil rights measures to popular vote. If America had done that in 1964, blacks would still be eating out in the parking lot by the back door to the restaurant’s kitchen. This Senator told us it was the only way to get the bill passed. We told the Minority Leader, a strong supporter of our efforts, to kill the bill. The sponsor pretended to be surprised and outraged, but we’d done exactly what he’d known we would. That was when I sought out John Schneider, a State Rep who had always opposed us vehemently and passionately, but never tried to secretly deny us our chance to make our case. I told him “I’d rather have you opposing us than [the Senator who screwed us] on our side.” Schneider smiled and said it was obvious I was learning about politics.
We told everyone we’d be back next year, stronger than ever, just like the freedom marchers, and of course, we were.
The 1995 session was right after the November 1994 mid-term elections that had rid the U.S. Congress of so many incumbents. There were more concealed carry supporters in the Missouri Senate than ever before, and my associates and I were tasting blood. We got a decent bill that had great momentum in the Senate (the House was always a slam-dunk) and I was spending an average of two days a week in the State Capitol, to make sure things didn’t get derailed. This was not good for my earnings, but we were getting very close to victory.
Then, on April 19, the Murrah building in Oklahoma City fell down. Some of our support in the Senate was now less firm, but we still had plenty of votes to pass. However, Senate Majority Leader J.B. “Jet” Banks, the godfather of a girl I had gone to high school with, opposed our bill. We had met with Banks on previous occasions, and always been told that his opposition was primarily for the benefit of the television cameras and to keep his name in front of his constituents. He would typically show up for the concealed carry debates in one of his pastel-colored double-knit suits, wearing a velvet cowboy hat on his head and toy six-shooters on his hips.******
In any event, Banks’ opposition to our bill turned out to be more than superficial. A lot more. When it became obvious that the bill was going to pass in the Senate the next day (which was the last day of the session), that night he called the Highway Patrol and reported that one of the grassroots concealed carry supporters had threatened to kill him. The next morning the Capitol was crawling with Police and Highway Patrol, all armed and unsmiling. The Senate decided they couldn’t act on the measure at “such a sensitive time.” Five hours later the session was over for the year.
I later discovered several things: First, the “death threat” came from the husband of Banks’ goddaughter, a supporter of concealed carry who IIRC had had the foresight to tape the phone conversation, because the police immediately came a-knocking. His words were something like “You will lose all your credibility in the eyes of your fellow senators if you kill this bill.” The police concluded that there had been a “misunderstanding” on Banks’ part, but wouldn’t charge him with filing a false police report. Second, Banks’ reasons for opposing concealed carry were at least partially financial: he had an interest in a security company whose business would have surely been hurt if people had been allowed to provide their own protection. Third, it was discovered in 1999 that Banks filed false tax returns in 1994 and 1995 (a felony), and was given a suspended sentence and five years probation, because of his age (he was thought to be in his late 70s, but had no birth certificate or driver’s license that anyone could locate.) Under the terms of his probation, he was barred from public office. UPDATE: Banks died of a heart attack October 13, 2003. In their piece about Banks’ death, the Post-Dispatch noted one of the worst-kept secrets of Missouri politics:
“Sen. Banks’ political career took off after the murder of a political rival, Sam Goldston, for the 19th Ward committeeman’s post in 1972. While rumors caused police to investigate Banks and his allies, no one was ever charged in the murder, which remains clouded in mystery.”
‘Nuff said about the late Senator Banks.
The 1996 legislative session was after the Clintons had successfully convinced the general public that those with a desire for smaller government were ideologically the same as the OKC bombers. We were a little demoralized by what had happened at yearend 1995, and the legislature was less eager to restore rights to people that the President was saying were sympathetic to domestic terrorists. We always had a huge majority in the house, but less support in the Senate, and ALWAYS an anti-self defense Governor to deal with. The Governor was always promising prisons and other favors to get the legislators to run out the clock, or having weak “yes”-vote legislators hide out in the bathroom rather than vote for our bills, so they wouldn’t land on his desk. This happened to us several times over the next few years.
By 1997 and 1998 I was getting a little burned out, but fortunately over the previous six years the number of SERIOUS rights advocates had dramatically increased. I gradually cut back on my efforts, and I got to the point where I wasn’t going to Jefferson City except on rare occasions. I got to where I just talked to legislators by phone, wrote editorials, and spoke at rallies. There were a lot of other people putting in long hours, and I felt a little guilty. Everyone kept plugging away, always getting overwhelming support in the House, but infighting in the Senate (with allegedly pro-rights senators of both parties not getting our bill passed because of not wanting to let the other party look good) thwarted the Missouri grassroots efforts in those years.
Despite not getting our bills made into law, we took pleasure in the small victories of our members. One year, Tim Oliver, a private investigator from Columbia, Missouri and a tireless supporter, spent an average of four days a week in the Capitol, working for concealed carry. As a habit, Tim tape-records all conversations with legislators. Near the end of the session, we found that one of our “supporters” had sold us out. Tim went to him and detailed the assurances he had given us, and asked if it was true he had lied to us. He told Tim he hadn’t meant it to be a lie, but yes, he was now going to actively oppose us. The man was starting a campaign for a higher office, and as chance would have it, one of the MAJOR donors to the man’s campaign was a wealthy concealed carry advocate that Tim knew. When the donor heard the tape, he immediately withdrew his funding—over a half million dollars in expected donations vanished overnight. Last I heard the ex-politician had a job stacking boxes in a warehouse somewhere.
1999 was the disaster year, where the legislature got away from us and finally did what Governor Carnahan had been urging and we had been resisting: pass concealed carry with a referendum attached, meaning it would go to a popular vote. We had to fight an all-out war with the media because they were dead-set against us, and there’s that old reminder about not getting into a writing contest with someone who buys ink in 55-gallon drums. Only 30% of the registered voters showed up, and the measure passed in 110 out of 114 counties, but lost overall 49% to 51% because of a huge vote imbalance in two large black districts, that were so lopsided I suspected vote fraud. Go here for a piece I wrote about that phenomenon.
After the 1999 referendum loss, 2000 was assumed by many to be a pointless waste of time. One person who’d been working on concealed carry since the beginning didn’t see it that way. Greg Jeffery was at that time the President of the Second Amendment Coalition of Missouri (SACMo), and was regularly running up to Jeff City and keeping in touch with the legislature and getting enough small pro-gun measures introduced by our friends that our enemies weren’t able to stop them all, let alone introduce any antigun bills. In a year assumed to be a washout, Greg kept our friends on our side and the legislature passed a law that eliminated the requirement for a permit-to-purchase ($10 and a nuisance to go get) on any handgun over 50 years old or listed on the federal Curio and Relics list. Greg continued to build up a tremendous amount of goodwill and credibility for our side among the legislators.
As an aside, Greg Jeffery and most of the key people in SACMo left the organization to form the Gateway Civil Liberties Alliance when some SACMo board members decided to change the basic nature of SACMo from one of volunteers to one of paid positions, with fundraising money used to pay for board members’ computers, cell phones, etc. Greg and the rest of us have always felt that 100% of membership dues and monies from fundraising should go to pay for things like buses for getting people to Capitol rallies, lawyers to mount legal challenges to anti-rights laws, pro-gun advertising, postage for mailing Legislative Alerts, etc. People who do things because they believe passionately in their cause have much more drive than someone looking to get a salary. GCLA was and is 100% volunteer with almost no fixed cost overhead. I donated a personal pre-ban AR-15 and a signed first edition of Unintended Consequences for a GCLA raffle and it raised something like $8000(!) in donations. This kind of dough is very effective when all of it is put to good use.
Anyway, after the 2000 legislative session ended in May, things were looking up for the next one because November 2000 was the election and the anti-self defense Governor Carnahan was leaving to run for the U.S. Senate against John Ashcroft. The governorship was being contested by Congressman Jim Talent and someone in the state legislature (treasurer, I think) named Bob Holden, running the blandest, least-inspiring television ads you’ve ever seen. Talent was favored to win, and was thought to support concealed carry, although since he had cast the deciding vote for Clinton’s ’94 Crime Bill that gave us the Assault Weapons Ban, some of us weren’t counting on it.
Then in October of 2000, Governor Mel Carnahan was killed in a plane crash three weeks before the election. Missouri has a quirky campaign law that says if a candidate dies within a certain number of days of the election, his name stays on the ballot. Carnahan’s did, and in a massive Democratic get-out-the-vote sympathy campaign (with the slogan “Keep the fire alive,” an odd choice of words given the manner of his death), the dead Mel Carnahan did what most political analysts said the live article would not: He defeated John Ashcroft.
The get-out-the-vote campaign had coattail effects, and Holden edged out Talent for the governorship by a thin margin. Holden had made a few mildly anti-self defense noises before the 2001 session started, but didn’t seem as bad as Carnahan had been. I thought we might be able to talk with him and bring him around, at least a little.
In early 2001 I got wind that Governor Holden was against our concealed carry effort (big surprise) since he thought that it was already possible to get a carry permit if you made bank deposits or owned a jewelry store, and that our group was trying to make Missouri like Vermont (where do they get these people?) My contact in his office said Holden wanted to build a bridge to the pro-gun groups. I said fine, have the Governor say a few words at the Gun Rights rally we were gearing up for, that would be on the Capitol steps in a few weeks. It’ll be a good photo and PR op for him, I explained, the Governor speaking in front of hundreds of self-defense supporters. What should the Governor say? my contact asked. I’ll write a short speech for him, I promised.
The speech I dreamed up had Holden admitting that he had originally thought that there was some kind of provision in Missouri law for a private citizen to get a permit to carry a firearm for protection under at least some circumstances, and was surprised to learn that there was not. I had Holden saying he had to agree that giving violent criminals a government guarantee that honest Missourians were defenseless was bad public policy, and he was certain that if all of us worked together, we would come up with a workable solution. The other people who saw what I had written all thought this was way too vague and left too much wiggle room, but I told them I was just looking to get a dialogue started with the Governor’s office. I faxed off the speech.
My phone rang a short while later. There was, quote, “No way in hell” Governor Holden was going to say the words I had written, or anything like them. Back to what we had always done, working the House and Senate while being shut out of the Governor’s office altogether. As was becoming habit, we got a decent carry bill passed in the House and another in the Senate, but once again the Governor exerted enough pressure to persuade key legislators to let the clock run out before the two bills could be reconciled in conference. Surprise, surprise. The session ended with nothing passed, good or bad.
September 11 was a turning point. On that day, the general public realized that you cannot always rely on others to assure your own safety. When the 2002 legislative session started four months later, there was a perceptible change in attitude. Those legislators who had previously been cool to the idea of concealed carry were much more receptive to our constant urgings to look at the experiences of other states. Some of them even called their counterparts in Indiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Florida, and Tennessee, something we had been unable to get anyone to actually do since 1992. Greg Jeffery, who (as always) was spending a lot of time in the Capitol, told me that he suddenly had credibility with some of the legislators who had brushed him off in the past. 2002 became a year of strengthening our relationships with our supporters and adding new converts to the cause of individual freedom. Once again we got a good carry bill passed, and this time the differences between the House and Senate versions were tiny. The backstabbing Senator who had done it before again added a referendum to the language, so we killed our own bill again. After eleven years, we were so close.
COMING SOON: What happened in 2003.
**It wasn’t enforced on any white if carrying a weapon for protection was his only crime. Naturally, when an armed robber was caught, a concealed weapon violation would be added to the list of charges. A team of legal researchers in 1992 could not find a case prior to 1964 where a white man in Missouri was arrested and convicted solely on a concealed weapons charge.
***Pizza delivery drivers are often robbed. They are summoned to strange neighborhoods by people they’ve never met who know they are carrying cash. My fellow drivers at the pizzeria where I worked refused to deliver pizzas to a specific section of one UMass dorm that was all black. I became known as the guy who would deliver to them, and only had one attempted robbery in dozens of deliveries there. Interesting anecdote: Pizza delivery driver Richard Davis was inspired to invent soft body armor after he was wounded in a pizza delivery robbery. Davis’ Second Chance Body Armor now has more ‘saves’ than all other makes combined.
****Ronnie White’s nomination to the Federal District Court seven years later in 1999 would be blocked by Senator (now Attorney General) John Ashcroft. The media flung charges of racism at Ashcroft, but from what lawyers who knew him well told me at the time, it had nothing to do with race and everything to do with the fact that Ashcroft considered White a poor legal mind (from his committee performance, I’d agree) who abandoned the son he fathered out of wedlock, and thus was not fit to be a federal judge. If a white person with the same credentials had been nominated for the same spot, it would have been laughable. Ashcroft was successful in his efforts and White became the first district court nominee in over 40 years to be voted down by the United States Senate. Unfortunately, the late Gov. Mel Carnahan appointed White to Missouri’s Supreme Court, but the good news is that this is not a lifetime appointment, and White may not be “retained” the next time a vote comes up.
*****If I get insomnia some night, I’ll put all the data in this study on my website.
******Older people in the Capitol gallery often told me that Banks reminded them of “Kingfish,” one of the characters on the CBS sitcom Amos ‘n’ Andy from the early 1950s. That was before my time, but I must’ve heard a half-dozen people mention the similarity to the TV character.