JEFFERSON CITY, MO. Around the country, gun-rights groups are waging what some portray as a deliberately gradual, one-step-at-a-time effort to ease state laws governing the carrying of a concealed weapon.
Organizations such as the National Rife Assn. and Gun Owners of America say their efforts Â under way in more than half the states Â are no greater this year than before. But they say the Sept. 11 attacks may have provided some momentum.
"Since September 11th people feel the need to protect themselves and their loved ones," said Randy Kozuch, the NRA's chief state and local lobbyist. "Nobody knows what future attacks will happen."
Alarmed by the effort, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which traditionally has focused on Congress, has expanded its staff for state legislatures and teamed up with the Million Mom March to fight attempts to loosen concealed gun laws.
"We are seeing a very large effort by the NRA to weaken concealed weapons laws across the country," said Luis Tolley, the Los Angeles-based state legislative director for the Brady Campaign. "They want to let anybody carry any gun they want, anywhere they want, any time they want."
In the 1980s, at least 40 states prohibited concealed weapons, according to the NRA. The movement to relax concealed gun laws began in 1987 in Florida and picked up steam in the mid-1990s.
Now just six states Â all in the Midwest Â prohibit concealed weapons. A dozen others allow them but sharply restrict the permits.
Legislative efforts are under way to reverse the prohibitions or at least allow concealed guns in some places, such as vehicles. In states that already allow concealed guns, supporters are trying to relax the permit process or the allow guns to be taken more places.
In Arizona, a bill endorsed by a House committee would make it a mere petty offense, punishable by a fine of up to $50, to carry a concealed gun without a permit. Currently, the offense carries a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.
Legislation in the South Carolina Senate would relax residency requirements for concealed gun permits and allow hidden weapons in state parks or churches.
In Minnesota, legislation would let most adults get concealed gun permits after background checks and training. Current law requires people to prove a job or safety need and gives discretion to local law officers in granting permits.
All told, lawmakers in 28 states have proposed concealed gun bills this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
After years of unsuccessful attempts to adopt a law allowing people to carry a concealed weapon, Missouri legislators put the issue on the ballot in 1999. The NRA spent $3.8 million, but the proposal failed because of lopsided "no" votes in St. Louis and Kansas City.
Now supporters are back before the Legislature Â even though Democratic Gov. Bob Holden has threatened to veto any bill resembling the 1999 initiative.