I grew up in Wyoming where gun ownership is common and part of the culture. Guns are respected, and so is the damage they can do. So responsibility around guns is also part of the culture and taken very seriously.
Here in Missouri, I believe that it is responsible gun ownership, not guns, that is under attack. Increasingly, I’ve become alarmed by the rise of radical groups from both inside and outside the state advocating reckless laws that needlessly put us all in danger. They open new, dangerous loopholes instead of closing them.
Fringe groups try to whip up fear (and donations) by claiming a conspiracy exists to take guns away from responsible Missourians. Nothing is farther from the truth. In reality, just the opposite is happening: Our legislators are repealing longstanding safeguards and enacting reckless laws that endanger public safety — not to mention the lives of law enforcement and first responders.
While these extremist groups do not speak for me or the gun owners I know, unfortunately, they apparently speak for many of our elected officials in Jefferson City. This year, legislators proposed a “Guns Everywhere” bill (their name, not mine) that would have allowed people to carry guns in schools, college and university facilities, and even bars. I’m not making this up. And it is expected to be reintroduced next year.
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The record is clear that opening new loopholes has been tragic for Missouri. Since 2008 when Missouri repealed its law requiring background checks on all handgun sales, the state has seen a 25 percent increase in the firearm homicide rate and a 16 percent increase in firearm suicide death rate, as well as an increase in handgun assaults against law enforcement officers. By contrast, after Connecticut enacted a law requiring background checks on all gun sales — similar to the one that Missouri repealed — it experienced a 40 percent reduction in firearm homicide and a 15 percent reduction in firearm suicide.
Sadly, Missouri lawmakers failed to learn from this and went even further. Last year, overriding then-Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, they enacted a law eliminating the permit and safety training requirements for carrying hidden, loaded handguns in public. The law also authorized some domestic abusers, and certain people convicted of violent crimes to carry concealed handguns in Missouri. Lawmakers voted for this irresponsible law despite overwhelming opposition by law enforcement and polls showing that over 85 percent of Missouri voters support background checks.
Not surprisingly, the results of SB 656 have already been devastating. In less than a year since it took effect, St Louis has seen a nearly 20 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a firearm, and Kansas City has seen a 13 percent increase over the same period. It is hard to see why we should expect law enforcement to have our backs when we have allowed our elected officials to turn their own backs on them.
As a gun owner, I feel a particular responsibility to push back against this growing culture of irresponsibility around guns. Just as I insist that guns at my house are stored responsibly and only used appropriately, I believe I owe it to my family and community to insist that my representatives support sensible gun safety measures over political expediency.
The epidemic of gun violence is man-made and we are not helpless to fight it unless we choose to be. I’ve met so many other Missourians who support the Second Amendment and who know that it goes hand-in-hand with support for sensible gun safety laws.
Those of us who want reasonable gun laws in Missouri far outnumber those who don’t. We are Republicans, Democrats and independents. We come from cities and rural areas, from households that have guns (stored safely) and those that choose not to. Together, we can reduce gun violence, and it starts with making our voices heard.
Cindy Speat lives in Kansas City and is a volunteer with the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.