Government & Politics

In first push for 2020, Missouri gubernatorial candidates talk gun violence solutions

The two most likely candidates for Missouri governor in 2020 said Thursday they were open to finding ways to reduce gun violence in the state, which has three cities on a list of the country’s 12 most dangerous.

Gov. Mike Parson and State Auditor Nicole Galloway were quizzed about gun control at the Missouri State Fair’s annual Governor’s Ham Breakfast, where politicians and the public mingle over plates of comfort food. As elections approach, the breakfast becomes a high-profile, and high-calorie, venue for candidates.

Neither Parson nor Galloway, seeking election in a state with some of the nation’s most permissive gun laws, voiced any support for limits on assault-style, tactical weapons.

Galloway, a Democrat who launched her candidacy Monday, told reporters she favors gun safety measures that have bipartisan support at the national level like universal background checks and closure of gun-purchase loopholes. She also endorsed “red flag” laws, which allow courts to temporarily remove firearms from their owners if they express interest in harming themselves or others.

“There are things that can be done to make our communities safer and we should not shy away from that,” Galloway said.

She said that Parson has tried to “deflect accountability” and been unwilling to talk about what he would do to make Missouri communities safer from gun violence.

She pointed to a 2018 list compiled by USA Today that found St. Louis, Springfield and Kansas City in the top 12 most dangerous cities in the country.

“This is a crisis,” Galloway said. “This is a human tragedy.”

Parson, who is expected to officially announce his bid next month, said he was a strong proponent of the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms.

“You have to be careful that you are not taking their rights away, but I think we need to look at all things,” Parson said. “Whether that means more law enforcement on the ground, whether that means the mental health side of it, whether that means social media today - yeah, I think (those who express the will to harm) should be flagged sometimes.”

He said he “doesn’t have a problem” with more robust background checks.

“I spent 22 years in law enforcement,” Parson, who once served as Polk County sheriff, said. “The more you know about people and what it is they do is important and it makes you make better sense.”

Other Missouri law enforcement have pointed to the state’s lax gun laws as a possible part of the problem.

In recent years, Missouri has done away with requirements for a permit or any training to carry concealed weapons.

Lawmakers lowered the age at which a person can carry concealed from 21 to 19. They approved a “stand your ground” law and prohibited local government from banning open carry.

Both Galloway and Parson’s comments come after a deadly summer in Kansas City and across the country. Six police officers were shot and wounded in Philadelphia during a seven-hour standoff with an active shooter Thursday.

The month has been rife with mass shootings. Incidents in El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio, have left 40 dead and dozens more wounded.

Days after the El Paso incident, which took place in Walmart, a man entered a Springfield Walmart holding a loaded tactical rifle and gun while wearing body armor. He told police the gear was to protect himself in the wake of mass shootings, though his sister alleged the man was attempting a “social experiment” to see if his Second Amendment rights would be violated and he would be asked to leave the store, according to the Springfield News-Leader.

As the man pushed a cart grabbing groceries, shoppers ran out the store and a Walmart manager activated the fire alarm to prompt an evacuation. He was arrested on suspicion of making a terrorist threat.

A slew of killings in Kansas City had Mayor Quinton Lucas contemplating a gun buy-back program, and then ordinances that would mimic state law to keep guns out of the hands of minors. Quinton has also urged federal action.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

Crystal Thomas covers Missouri politics for The Kansas City Star. An Illinois native and a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism, she has experience covering state and local government.