JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Conservative lawmakers this year are taking the push to strip limits on owning and carrying guns from rural areas to urban Missouri, the latest front for debate on gun rights in the state that comes months after voters further enshrined gun rights in the constitution.
Momentum to pass measures expanding access to firearms has been building for years, and Second Amendment supporters in August were dealt a big success with the passage of a state constitutional amendment. That change – Amendment 5 – declares the right to keep and bear arms is “unalienable” and that laws restricting gun rights are subject to “strict scrutiny.”
With that win under their belt, some GOP lawmakers this session are pushing for a measure to allow firearms on buses and trains, along with a slew of other measures to expand who can carry guns and where.
The public transit bill by Republican Rep. Ron Hicks of St. Peters, which is pending a vote in a House committee, would have the greatest impact in urban areas. That could inflame debate on the bill, with some of the strongest opposition to expanding gun rights coming from big cities, said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
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Democratic Rep. Mike Colona of St. Louis has blasted the bill as infringing on cities’ rights to enact public safety policies best suited for them, and lobbyists for public transit systems in St. Louis, Kansas City and other cities across the state testified against the bill.
Mike Winter, a lobbyist for the Missouri Public Transit Association, said he is not aware of any public transportation systems in the state that allow passengers to carry weapons, a policy primarily spurred by safety concerns.
But Hicks and other supporters say allowing guns could mean increased safety on public transit in some of the state’s most crime-ridden areas, or at the least it could give riders a feeling of greater security.
Hicks said the measure in part stems from his desire to carry a gun on St. Louis’ light rail to protect himself.
A 20-year-old man was arrested Tuesday for his alleged involvement in a March 24 assault on the MetroLink. A commuter reported that he was attacked after being asked about last summer’s police shooting death of Michael Brown and the ensuing racial unrest in nearby Ferguson.
Republican Rep. Elijah Haahr, chairman of the House committee reviewing Hicks’ legislation, said the proposal could be packaged with a number of other gun rights bills moving through the House. But Haahr also said lawmakers still are vetting concerns that the bill would take away local choice, which likely will weigh into the measure’s chances of passing.
A committee vote on the legislation has not yet been scheduled. A hearing on a similar Senate bill is scheduled for Wednesday.