Many Bates County, Missouri, residents are in favor of a move this week by Sheriff Chad Anderson. He has temporarily waived fees for new concealed carry permits and renewals through the end of June.
"Our phones rang non stop yesterday," Sheriff Anderson's assistant Jami Page says. "We had to bring in another dispatcher to handle all the calls."
The Bates County Sheriff's office made the announcement Monday on Facebook in the aftermath of the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. The gunman, who was killed by police, claimed allegiance to the Islamic State.
The statement goes on to quote Sheriff Anderson at length:
"I feel I have a Duty to Protect the Citizens while here in Bates County and allow them to be able to protect themselves and their loved ones while they are away. I will continue to pray for peace for our country and the world. But I will not put blinders on and act like this can not happen here or to people we know and love."
Sheriff's officials in Bates County express confidence Anderson is within his legal right to waive the fees. Not all gun law experts are so certain.
On "Shaky Legal Ground"
In question is Missouri Revised Statute 571.101.1, which governs concealed carry permits in the state.
The statute says the "sheriff in each county shall charge a nonrefundable fee not to exceed one hundred dollars" for processing an application for a new permit. (The same language is repeated, except with a $50 limit, for permit renewals.)
Based on that clause, says Lindsay Nichols, a lawyer with the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, Bates County is on "shaky legal ground."
"The sheriff is shirking his duty to charge the fee," she says, which she notes, is used to pay for the costs of processing the applications. Getting a sudden flood of new applications could take time and resources.
"The public is going to be harmed if other law enforcement activities are impacted by the lack of resources this could result in," Nichols says. "It can use up a lot of the staff's time if you suddenly have a lot of people applying for these permits. Which means less time is being used to investigate crimes."
The Sheriff Can Do "What He Wants"
Other legal experts, though, say Sheriff Anderson is within his rights to waive the fees, though they admit the move raises interesting questions about Missouri's concealed carry permit law.
Allen Rostron with UMKC Law School says the phrase "shall charge" in the statute creates the impression a fee is required. But legal wrangling over wording may be made moot, Rostron says, by the fact that the fees collected are supposed to go back to the local sheriff's office.
"As a practical matter, I would say it means the sheriff is allowed to waive the fees if he decides to do so," Rostron writes in an email to KCUR.
Gladstone attorney Kevin Jamison, who frequently works on firearms-related cases, is even more emphatic:
"The sheriff in this case can pretty much do what he wants," he says.
Jamison says Missouri law allows for sheriffs to recoup costs associated with processing concealed carry permit applications and its within Anderson's power to not charge anything. In fact, Jamison says this could be a beneficial move for some Bates County gun owners.
"It may assist some people on fixed incomes who've bought a gun and paid for classes and now don't have to pay that $100 to get the permit."
What Will Be The Cost?
Applications for new concealed carry permits in Bates County normally cost $100. Renewals cost $50. (The maximum allowed by state law.)
This money not only pays for processing the permit applications, but a portion also goes to the Missouri Highway Patrol for processing applicants' fingerprints. Officials with the Bates County Sheriff say for the rest of June, the costs of these services will be paid for from the sheriff's "general revenue fund."
Likewise, officials emphasized that any fees needed to be paid to the state Highway Patrol for fingerprinting services would be paid for by funds from the the same general revenue fund.
In fiscal year 2015, the Bates County Treasurer reports the sheriff's office took in an average of $1,480 a month in permit fee revenue. All of that went into a "sheriff's revolving fund" at the county to be used by the sheriff's office.
County Collector officials note a regularly scheduled audit of the Bates County Sheriff will begin Monday. (The audit is not related to the fee waiver announcement.) That audit will, in part, review how money from the "revolving fund" is spent.
Jackson County Won't Follow Suit
Legal questions aside, Jackson County Sheriff's officials say waiving permit fees does not make financial sense for them.
"It would be fiscally irresponsible for us to do that and would hurt the citizens of Jackson County if we did," says Sgt. John Payne.
Payne says the Jackson County Sheriff's office processes "dozens" of permit applications a day. Each new permit application, like in Bates County, costs $100. (Renewals, again, cost $50.) The lost revenue would make it hard to pay for the service of dealing with the near-constant flow of applications, Payne says.
"We have clerks dealing with this Monday through Saturday. Each application takes at least 30 to 45 minutes to process."
The office, he notes, already has a waiting list a month-and-a-half long for applicants for concealed carry permits.
Editor's Note: This post was updated to add comments from Gladstone attorney Kevin Jamison.
Kyle Palmer is KCUR's morning newscaster. He occasionally reports and Tweets. You can follow him on Twitter @kcurkyle