Government & Politics

In wake of mass school shooting, Missouri lawmakers push forward pro-gun legislation

Advocates from both sides of the gun debate crowded a Missouri House meeting room on Monday.
Advocates from both sides of the gun debate crowded a Missouri House meeting room on Monday.

Ian Goold, an 11-year-old from St. Louis, stood out.

He was one of a handful of young Missourians inspired by their peers in Parkland, Fla., who skipped school Monday to have their voices heard at the Capitol. He peeked through an overflowing Missouri House hearing room as state representatives debated a slew of bills related to guns.

It was Missouri lawmakers’ first debate on the topic since the shooting in Parkland, where 17 people died.

The lawmakers debated into the evening how loosening or tightening the state’s gun laws could have an effect if a mass shooting happened in Missouri.

“It felt good as a kid,” he said of the Parkland students who have spoken up since. “If something would happen at my school or another school, other kids in my grade or me could stand up like that.”

He was joined by Sally Green, a 14-year-old who traveled from Kansas City.

“I felt so bad. I just wanted to cry. Seventeen people died,” Sally said about the Parkland shooting. “I don't want guns in my school. That would make me feel very unsafe.”

After hearing five hours of testimony Monday afternoon and into the night, lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Tuesday and voted out of committee a handful of bills that would expand where Missourians can carry their concealed firearms. They voted down bills that would have required background checks and repealed aspects of concealed carry without a permit, which lawmakers legalized in 2016.

Democrats were skeptical of much of the pro-gun legislation throughout the hearing.

“In light of everything we've seen in this country, that a week or two later … we're going to pass a bill in Missouri to allow people to bring their guns to amusement parks, and casinos and daycare centers and schools and college campuses — I think it goes radically beyond the direction of what the people of Missouri want,” said state Rep. Jon Carpenter, a Kansas City Democrat who sat on the committee.

The General Laws committee was originally scheduled to debate “a group of gun bills that pro-gun lobbyists would have liked,” said Rep. Greg Razer, a Kansas City Democrat whose bill was heard Monday. But after the Parkland mass shooting, Democrats asked that the committee hear more of their bills regarding gun control, rather than just the handful of Republican-sponsored bills originally scheduled.

They got their wish, and on Monday, four bills sponsored by Democrats and four bills sponsored by Republicans were heard. By Tuesday night, only one Democrat saw his bill voted out of committee, along with all of the Republican-sponsored bills.

The successful bills would restrict the use of firearm tracking technology, allow tax deductions for completing gun safety trainings, allow guns to be transported in cars, prevent local entities from regulating open carry and expand the areas where concealed guns can be carried.

Razer's bill, which would have required background checks for gun sales and transfers, was voted down Tuesday night. Razer said the legislature “has lost reason” and is “out of whack” because of extremists on the right.

“They stood on the floor and talked about how awful (the Parkland shooting) was, and said 'thoughts and prayers,' but obviously it did not have an effect on their agenda,” Razer said. “Last night, you could look at the faces of some of those Republicans, and could tell that they wanted to vote for my bill. So either my bill got voted down because I have a 'D' behind my name or because they are terrified of the National Rifle Association.”

Rep. Jered Taylor, a Nixa Republican who sits on the committee, rejected Razer's claims and said he has not talked to the NRA once this year about the bills before the committee.

"For him to say that something was done underhandedly or inappropriately is wrong. Those are the tactics that the Democrats use every day on our bills when they don't like our bills and try to gut our bills," Taylor said. "Unfortunately, we just disagree.”

Razer stressed during Monday’s hearing that he was eager to work with lawmakers to meet on middle ground and that he was not against Second Amendment rights. He even adopted amendments that Republican lawmakers had proposed to address issues they had with the language.

However, his bill died in committee while other bills passed, including Taylor’s measure that would have allowed guns in government buildings, day cares, bars, amusement parks, churches, sports stadiums, hospitals and college campuses.

Taylor’s bill was one of the most controversial, with hours of testimony from people on both sides. Amendments that would have exempted some locations and banned bump stocks were voted down.

Taylor stressed that his bill would allow Missourians to protect themselves, should the need arise, and used rape on college campuses as an example. Under Taylor’s bill, concealed-carry permit holders who are at least 19 years old would be allowed to carry a firearm on campus.

Democrats questioned the effectiveness on guns on college campuses where drinking, parties and mental health issues are common.

“Do you think it's possible that if she's in a vulnerable enough position to be raped, that she also might be in a vulnerable enough position that the gun gets taken from her and used against her?” Rep. Peter Merideth, a St. Louis Democrat, asked Taylor.

Students who would be affected by the bill were equally outspoken. Connor Martin, a 17-year-old who attends Troy Buchanan High School, was vocal in his support of guns in schools.

"As a student in public high school on a daily basis for at least eight hours, I'm one of the many possible sitting duck victims of another mass shooting,” Martin said. “You've heard in the media from the teenage victims of these mass shootings. Now I encourage you to hear from one that does not want to become one of these victims.”

Damen Alexander, a 17-year-old at St. Louis University High School, stressed that he was against guns on college campuses.

“At my school we have a rifle range in the basement, and even though they are soft pellet guns, I still do not feel comfortable with this normalization of guns on campuses,” he said.

Some students, while quiet at the hearing, expressed their views to lawmakers privately. Ian, the 11-year-old from St. Louis, said that after the shooting in Florida he was worried something similar could happen at his school.

So he visited the Capitol and met with lawmakers, including Merideth and Taylor. Ian asked Taylor how his bill would make him safer in school, and Taylor explained that it would allow teachers to carry firearms and respond to the threat of an active shooter. But that didn’t comfort Ian.

“I wouldn't want to go to school that day, because I would feel unsafe that our teacher would have a gun in the classroom.”

Sally, the 14-year-old from Kansas City, said seeing students speak out in Florida inspired her to attend Monday’s hearing, and she hoped lawmakers would take the opinions of students like her into consideration.

“The guns are going to be in our schools, so it affects us. They need to see the direct result of their lawmaking,” she said.

While Republican representatives’ bills were easily passed out of committee, there are signs they could face a more difficult time if they make it to the Senate.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, a St. Louis Democrat, released a statement opposing Taylor’s bill. She issued a warning on Twitter.

“If the House sends ANY gun bills to the Senate that don't deal with the REAL issues,” Naseed wrote, “they're DOA!”