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Missourians will vote on whether right to keep and bear arms is 'unalieanable'

Basic, fundamental, and unalienable
Photo © Oleg Volk. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

Two weeks from today, Missourians will vote on Proposed Constitutional Amendment 5, which declares the right to keep and bear arms "unalienable." This was not long ago in doubt, because several parties had filed lawsuits enjoining the state to either reword the ballot's description of the amendment, or even remove it altogether from the ballot. The "reasoning," supposedly, is that in merely telling voters that the measure would upgrade the state's recognition of the right to the status of "unalienable," the ballot failed to adequately inform voters that gun laws would now be subject to the "strict scrutiny" standard of judicial review, and that the amendment would remove current language in the Missouri Bill of Rights that excepts the carrying of concealed weapons from the constitution's protection of the right to keep and bear arms.

Basically, in other words, the plaintiffs were arguing that Missouri voters were not bright enough to realize that "unalienable" means what it says. Absentee voting actually started on June 23, so the demand to change the ballot language would effectively have removed the measure from the ballot for many voters, and Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem, who presided over the lawsuits, didn't initially rule out disenfranchising early voters, if he deemed the ballot language inadequate. From the Associated Press:

Beetem rejected Hatfield’s request to block election officials from giving voters ballots containing the disputed wording while he considers the merits of the case. The judge gave no specific date for when he will rule on the request to rewrite the summary. But Beetem said some absentee votes may not be counted, if he decides to rewrite the ballot summary after some people already have voted.

That, fortunately, did not come to be, as Judge Beetem ruled on July 1 that the ballot language adequately described the effects of the amendment. That ruling was not in itself enough to guarantee that the vote would proceed, though, because the plaintiffs immediately announced their intention to take their case to the Missouri Supreme Court.

But Friday, as reported by the Associated Press, that hurdle was cleared, as well:

The wording cannot be changed just three weeks before Missouri’s primary election on a ballot measure asking voters to declare in the state Constitution that the right to bear arms is “unalienable,” the state Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The court dismissed an appeal by opponents of the gun measure, saying a state law forbids the court from making changes to ballot measures within six weeks of an election.

The ruling means the wording will not be changed on Proposed Constitutional Amendment 5, which will go before voters on Aug. 5.

All of this, of course, comes to naught if Missourians vote the measure down, which would provide a reminder of the dangers of holding fundamental human rights hostage to the popularity contest of an election. Still, a similar measure won voters' approval by overwhelming margins in Louisiana last fall. Hopefully, Missouri voters will choose as wisely.


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