State Right to Bear Arms in Missouri

Posted on August 21, 2015

Article 1, § 23 of the Missouri Constitution sets forth the right of a private individual to bear arms. In 2014, voters approved a radical amendment to this provision making it easier to challenge state and local gun laws in court. Article I, § 26 now reads: “That the right of every citizen to keep and bear arms, ammunition, and accessories typical to the normal function of such arms, in defense of his home, person, family and property, or when lawfully summoned in aid of the civil power, shall not be questioned. 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 shall under no circumstances decline to protect 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 violent felons or those adjudicated by a court to be a danger to self or others as result of a mental disorder or mental infirmity.”1

The 2014 amendment forces state courts to review gun laws under the technical and confusing judicial standard known as “strict scrutiny.” Laws evaluated under strict scrutiny—the toughest form of judicial review—are struck down more frequently by the courts because the standard is so high.

Very few courts in the nation apply this level of review to cases challenging gun laws. Using this standard, the court asks whether the law furthers a compelling government interest using the most narrowly tailored means to achieve that interest.

In the limited number of cases in which courts have applied strict scrutiny review to gun laws, the laws are most often struck down. Since the 2014 amendment, Missouri courts have yet to review a challenge to a firearms regulation under strict scrutiny. Examples of measures outside of Missouri that have been invalidated under this standard include laws that:

  • ban transporting or possessing firearms outside of the home during a state of emergency2
  • ban guns in bars and other establishments where alcohol is sold or consumed on the premises3
  • ban possession of guns by individuals previously convicted of misdemeanor gun possession4
  • require that a person be a U.S. citizen to be eligible for a firearms license5
  • ban the sale or transfer of firearms within city limits6
  • ban the operation of shooting ranges within city limits7

Prior to the 2014 amendment, the Supreme Court of Missouri had rejected various challenges to state statutes. The Supreme Court of Missouri has held that article 1, § 23 protects an individual’s right to possess or use firearms. However, the court has held such a right is limited to “defense of home, person or property” and is subject to the authority of the Missouri General Assembly to enact laws which regulate the time, place and manner of bearing firearms. In State v. Wilforth, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of a firearm into a church or place of worship.8 Similarly, in State v. Shelby, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of a weapon in certain places where persons are assembled or while intoxicated.9

In State v. Keet, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons.10 The court rejected the defendant’s argument that, since he had a “reasonable apprehension of danger” and was acting in self-defense, he had a right to carry a concealed weapon.11 The court distinguished between weapons carried openly and weapons carried concealed, and held that the state right to bear arms in self-defense does not protect a person carrying a concealed weapon.12

In State v. White, the Missouri Supreme Court rejected a challenge to a statute prohibiting the exhibition of a deadly weapon in a rude, angry or threatening manner.13 In State v. Plassard, the Missouri Supreme Court held that the state “right to bear arms” required that a defendant charged with unlawfully exhibiting a weapon be given an opportunity to prove that he had a right to possession of the property where he was at the time of the offense.14 The court stated that “[i]f the defendant was defending his home and property, he had a constitutional right to bear arms” and could not be convicted.15

In Brooks v. State, the Supreme Court of Missouri rejected a novel article 1, § 23 challenge to a state law, adopted in September 2003, that authorized the carrying of a concealed firearm.16 A group of citizens challenged the law, claiming that the carrying of a concealed firearm violates the last clause of article 1, § 23, which states that the article “shall not justify the wearing of concealed weapons.” The court stated that article 1, § 23 “means simply that the constitutional right does not extend to the carrying of concealed weapons, not that citizens are prohibited from doing so, or that the General Assembly is prohibited from enacting statutes allowing or disallowing the practice.”17

In City of Cape Girardeau v. Joyce, the Missouri Court of Appeals rejected an article 1, § 23 challenge to a municipal ordinance prohibiting the open carrying of a firearm readily capable of lethal use.18 The court also rejected an article 1, § 23 challenge to Mo. Rev. Stat. § 21.750.3, the statutory provision which delegated to political subdivisions the power to enact such ordinances.19

See the Local Authority to Regulate Firearms in Missouri summary for further information.

  1. Mo. Const. Art. I, § 23. []
  2. Bateman v. Perdue, 881 F. Supp. 2d 709 (E.D.N.C. 2012). []
  3. Taylor v. City of Baton Rouge, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 117919 (M.D. La., Aug. 25, 2014). []
  4. Gowder v. City of Chicago, 923 F. Supp. 2d 1110 (N.D. Ill. 2012). []
  5. Fletcher v. Haas, 851 F. Supp. 2d 287 (D. Mass. 2012). []
  6. Illinois Ass’n of Firearms Retailers v. City of Chicago, 961 F. Supp. 2d 928 (N.D. Ill. 2014). []
  7. Ezell v. City of Chicago, 651 F.3d 684 (7th Cir. 2011). []
  8. 74 Mo. 528, 530 (1881). []
  9. 2 S.W. 468 (1886).) The court in Shelby also rejected a challenge to a statute prohibiting the carrying of concealed weapons. ((Id. at 469. []
  10. 190 S.W. 573 (1916). []
  11. Id. at 574. []
  12. Id. at 576. []
  13. 253 S.W. 724 (1923). []
  14. 195 S.W. 2d 495 (1946). []
  15. Id. at 497. []
  16. 128 S.W.3d 844 (2004). []
  17. Brooks, 128 S.W.3d at 847. []
  18. 884 S.W.2d 33, 34 (1994). []
  19. Id. []