Examining the weapons in the Koster-Greitens duel for endorsements

In the Missouri governor’s race, GOP nominee Eric Greitens looks the part of the ultimate gun-lobby panderer.

He’s the guy with the chiseled cheekbones and the ripped abs who, in his TV commercials, interrupts his furious situps routine only to fire high-powered rifles at things that blow up.  Greitens, a retired Navy SEAL with no political experience, is banking on the idea that gun groups will love him if they see him often enough in camouflage gear, blasting away with military weapons.

Then again, Democratic nominee Chris Koster, Missouri’s two-term attorney general and a former state senator from Cass County, doesn’t miss any social-media opportunity to appear rugged and ready to lock and load. “Quail hunting with friends. A perfect day,” he reported on Twitter and Instagram a few months ago, accompanied by photos of himself stalking birds and riding a horse.

And Koster, unlike Greitens, can claim more than one political commando raid. His weapon of choice: the state’s attorney general’s office.

A couple of weeks ago, Koster filed a lawsuit challenging the University of Missouri Board of Curators’ prohibition against concealed weapons on campus. It aims to bolster the case of a Mizzou professor who has sued for the right to have a gun in his vehicle when he drives to work.

A Boone County court will ultimately decide whether Missouri’s university leaders have the right to uphold a basic safety provision for their campuses — though not soon enough to help Koster win the governorship.

Professor Royce de R. Barondes’ lawsuit has been kicking around for nearly a year, and can well stand on its own. Koster’s office has told reporters that his lawsuit is “to ensure that Missouri statutes and constitution are applied correctly and responsibly.” But, three months before the election, with the NRA endorsement in the balance, it’s about something else: flaunting his pro-gun credentials.

It’s not the first time a filing from the Missouri attorney general’s office has just happened to align with Koster’s political ambitions.

In 2014, Koster challenged a California law requiring that egg producers treat their hens humanely in order to participate in the California market. Specifically, cages must be large enough for hens to stand up, turn around and spread their wings. California voters set those standards in a 2008 ballot measure, and the law was expanded to include out-of-state producers.

Producers in Missouri and elsewhere were taking steps to comply with the California standards and hadn’t made much of a fuss. But Koster claimed California’s actions harmed Missouri egg producers and the state as a whole. Beware the slippery slope, he warned in a news release. If California politicians can tell Missouri egg producers how big their cages need to be, “they may just as easily demand that Missouri soybeans be harvested by hand or that Missouri corn be transported by solar-powered trucks.”

Sure. They might also demand that actual aliens — the ones from outer space — be given access to Missouri fields in order to more efficiently make their crop circles.

A federal judge smacked Koster down a few months later. U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly Mueller said the lawsuit was narrowly tailored to protect a subsection of Missouri egg producers, and Koster hadn’t shown that the California law harmed Missouri citizens.

Koster, who had enlisted the attorneys general of several other states to join his lawsuit, has appealed Mueller’s ruling. Oral arguments are scheduled for October 19. Despite his early prediction that the case would cost no more than $10,000, by the time the appeal was getting started the state had paid $83,711 for outside legal counsel, expert testimony and expenses.

Missouri taxpayers don’t have much to show for Koster’s egg scramble, but the attorney general does. The Missouri Farm Bureau cited the lawsuit when its political action committee a few weeks ago made Koster the first Democratic candidate in state history to win the bureau’s coveted endorsement for governor.

The NRA endorsement would further plant the perception that Koster gets rural Missourians. The group endorsed him four years ago in his re-election bid for attorney general, and he has had its “A” rating since then. But the NRA is never satisfied. Its leaders want to know what a politician has done for them lately.

Koster happens to have a good answer: He just used the attorney general’s office to jump into legal action, in a case that could open the door for unfettered access to handguns on Missouri college campuses. That seems likely to impress the NRA even more than Greitens’ carbine-and-firebomb ads. The SEAL could pick up some target-practice tricks by watching Koster’s craven political opportunism.

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