Every time Missourians think gun laws can’t get any worse, someone in the General Assembly proposes something new and even more obscene.
The latest is a bill from Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Columbia Republican, that would add Missouri to the list of states with the “stand your ground’ gun laws. Such laws made headlines after the Feb. 26, 2012, killing in Sanford, Fla., of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman.
Trayvon, who was unarmed, black and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, had walked to a store for Skittles and a soft drink. Zimmerman alerted police, thinking the teen was a suspect. Dispatchers told Zimmerman to keep his distance, but he confronted Trayvon. A struggle resulted in Trayvon being shot to death.
Zimmerman was tried and acquitted in Trayvon’s killing. Since then national attention has been drawn to the slayings of unarmed black males mostly after 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo. Neither the state grand jury nor the U.S. Justice Department brought charges against the officer.
The Black Lives Matter movement, which started after that Brown was slain, has continued to focus badly needed attention on unarmed African American males nationwide being killed by police. There have been numerous cases.
On the “stand your ground laws,” Florida passed the first one in 2005, according to the FindLaw website. Since then similar legislation had been enacted in 23 states. They are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and West Virginia.
Schaefer’s bill fits a growing number of measures that have liberalized gun laws, particularly after the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 schoolchildren ages 6 and 7 and six educators before taking his own life. If the measure were to pass and be signed by the governor, it would make Missouri the first state in five years to enact a “stand your ground” law, The Kansas City Star reports.
The bill would expand the “castle doctrine,” which enables a person to use deadly force to defend himself at home or on his property. When in public, the existing law says the person being confronted has a responsibility to at least try to retreat.
Other states with that duty to retreat are Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Rhode Island, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Schaefer, who is running for Missouri attorney general, said his proposal would let people defend themselves without concern about future legal fallout.
The bill is in the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety Committee. Critics were right to point out that Schaefer’s bill could lead to an increase in homicides, and that count in Kansas City is already higher this year compared with last, which ended up way above 2014. It’s already 18 so far in 2016 compared with 13 reported at this time in 2015.
Despite the growing gun violence problem in the state, the committee is also looking at other ways to liberalize gun laws, including allowing conceal carry of firearms on public university campuses and creating a lifetime permit for conceal carry.
Such measures feed on people’s fear of others and actually make society less safe because of the increasing number of guns on the street in the hands of people who are less likely to be trained on how and when to use them. It’s an arms race in the Show-Me State with no good end.
It’s why a bill from Rep. Mike Colona, a St. Louis Democrat, proposing that St. Louis secede from Missouri and become its own state is starting to look less ludicrous.