Government & Politics

Metal detectors likely to disappear from Missouri Capitol after one session

After guns were banned from the Capitol, Rep. Nick Marshall placed a sign on his door offering to lend guns to visiting constituents who have concealed-carry permits.
After guns were banned from the Capitol, Rep. Nick Marshall placed a sign on his door offering to lend guns to visiting constituents who have concealed-carry permits.

The X-ray machines and metal detectors that greet visitors at the doors of the Missouri Capitol probably won’t be there next year.

Funding for the security checkpoints, which were put in place in January for the first time in more than a decade, was stripped from the state budget advanced Tuesday by the House Budget Committee. Instead, the committee authorized the Missouri Capitol Police to hire five more officers.

The move isn’t all that surprising.

Lawmakers have largely bristled at the new security measures, especially in the weeks since Gov. Eric Greitens lifted a restriction on concealed-carry permit holders from bringing guns into the statehouse.

“If you’re allowing firearms into the building, then why have the metal detectors?” said state Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat who serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “All you’re doing is inconveniencing school kids and other visitors to the building without actually making anyone any safer.”

For years, lawmakers, employees and visitors entered and exited the Missouri Capitol through numerous unlocked doors without passing through any visible security measures. Armed Capitol Police officers patrolled inside and outside the building, and video surveillance cameras were placed at various entrances and around the governor’s office.

Metal detectors were installed at the Missouri Capitol after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but they were removed in 2003 during a budget crunch.

Last fall, using money from a $40 million bond issue for Capitol repairs, the state spent $415,000 to buy three pass-through metal detectors, 25 hand-held metal-detector wands and equipment for electronic badge scanners at locked doors.

The purchases were initiated by former Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration and were set to be implemented Jan. 18.

But Greitens wanted the security protocols put in place sooner. So on Jan. 10, the day after he took the oath of office, the doors of the Capitol were locked and visitors were funneled through entrances with metal detectors.

Greitens included funding to operate the new security in his proposed state budget.

The backlash began almost immediately.

When the signs went up on the doors of the Missouri Capitol prohibiting the public from entering with a firearm, Rep. Nick Marshall, a Parkville Republican, put up a sign of his own.

On his office door, he posted a sign offering to lend a gun to any constituent with a valid concealed-carry permit. Marshall, a lawyer, said the prohibition being enforced by Capitol Police violated state law.

A few weeks later, Marshall was vindicated when Greitens lifted the prohibition and tried to distance himself from the new security protocols completely.

“Before we took office, the previous administration funded and launched new security measures in the Capitol,” Greitens wrote on Facebook. “Some in the media reported — falsely — that our administration had been pushing these changes. That’s dead wrong.”

But it was Greitens’ administration that gave the green light to put up signs prohibiting firearms in the Capitol.

In late December, former Missouri Capitol Police Chief Todd Hurt emailed Sarah Steelman, Greitens’ commissioner of the Office of Administration, asking for her approval for signs to be placed on the doors of the Capitol informing the public that firearms were banned.

Steelman replied several days later, saying she had checked with Drew Juden, Greitens’ director of the Department of Public Safety, “and he approved the signage so it’s good to go.”

Greitens’ office did not respond to several requests for comment about his position on security in the Capitol.

While he was happy the gun ban was lifted, Marshall said he hopes the new security checkpoints will be gone by next legislative session.

“It’s an intrusion on people’s freedom,” he said. “The whole spectacle of it, to see schoolchildren or my constituents patted down and treated like they did something wrong. This is the people’s building, and they should be able to come and go with freedom.”

State Rep. Deb Lavender, a St. Louis County Democrat who serves on the Budget Committee, said she’d have no problem with the security checkpoints going away.

“I’m fine with that,” she said, “especially when we allow concealed guns in the Capitol anyway.”

State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, a Jefferson City Republican who chairs the joint legislative committee on Capitol security, said she’s reserving judgment on the new security measures.

“We should look at what’s working and what problems people are experiencing,” she said. “We’re giving it a chance to run its course and see if there are any problems that need to be corrected.”

But with few fans among lawmakers from either party, it seems unlikely the funding will be returned to the budget as it winds through the legislative process.

“After 10 years where we have been fine without metal detectors,” Holsman said, “I’m inclined to believe we don’t need them.”

Jason Hancock: 573-634-3565, @J_Hancock