In a Big Missouri Shootout, the NRA Loses a Referendum

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The gun lobby, which has been under increasing attack in courts and legislatures around the country, now has suffered a significant defeat at the hands of ordinary voters. In a closely watched referendum in Missouri in which both sides brought in some of their heaviest artillery -- Charlton Heston for the NRA; Governor Mel Carnahan, Hillary Rodham Clinton and top law enforcement officers for the anti-gun forces -- residents decided to maintain a state ban on concealed weapons by a vote of 52 percent to 48 percent. “The Missouri referendum was a pretty square face-off between gun supporters and their opponents,” says TIME senior writer Adam Cohen. “And though the vote was close, it is telling that the gun lobby lost in a heartland state that is not a particular hotbed of gun control activism.”

The breakdown of the vote in Missouri, which is a bellwether state on many issues, revealed a phenomenon that is likely to increase the alarm within the gun industry. Rural counties supported lifting the ban, but the measure lost by large margins in the state's two major urban-suburban centers of St. Louis and Kansas City. “City folks view this as a crime issue,” says Cohen, “and they are more supportive of gun controls. The bad news for the NRA is that the country is becoming more urban and less rural.” This changing tide of demographics is likely to become the NRA’s biggest long-range headache. Meanwhile, in the short run, the organization is bound to face even more potshots from anti-gun forces, who will feel emboldened by the Missouri outcome.