The Star asked the Missouri Influencer panel to respond to two questions about gun control and gun rights.
▪ What’s the most important change that should be made in Missouri gun laws, and why?
Kay Barnes, former mayor of Kansas City, senior director for university engagement at Park University: “An appropriate place to start is banning the sales of assault-type rifles.”
Luis Cordoba, Kansas City Public Schools’ chief student support and intervention officer: “I believe that the root of the debate lies in a single sentence in the U.S. Constitution, where the Second Amendment says: ‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ I am not an attorney and don’t know what can be done to make amendments to this single sentence, but feel we need to begin there. I would assume that back in the days when the U.S. Constitution was written, we did not take into account the issues of violent criminals, people who suffer from a mental illness, and more.”
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Jane Dueker, lawyer, radio host and former political adviser: “Universal background checks for all gun purchases. That should be the easiest thing to do. ... One of the challenges with an assault ban is describing the weapons that would be banned. I am concerned that the grip of the NRA in this state is so strong that any perceived restriction on the unfettered right to easily secure any machine resembling a gun will be rejected by our state legislature.”
Crosby Kemper III, director of Kansas City Public Library, co-founder of Show-Me Institute: “Banning bump stocks and high capacity magazines would be a start. Or restricting some assault style guns to State and National Guard members.”
Woody Cozad, lobbyist and former Missouri GOP chairman: “We should lengthen the sentence to five years for felons found in possession of firearms and should ban plea bargains on such charges or dismissal of such charges except where the prosecuting attorney files an affidavit that the defendant appeared to be innocent. This was done by the U.S. attorney in Richmond, Virginia, during the Clinton administration. The result was a significant drop in homicides by firearm.”
Jason Grill, media consultant: “Expanded background checks for gun purchasers and permits. If you are purchasing a gun, you should have to go through a basic background check at a minimum. Background checks should be the norm for all gun purchasers, not the exception to the rule. In addition, having a permit to own a gun seems like a reasonable, common-sense piece of gun legislation we can all agree on. I mean, I need a permit and license to fish — shouldn’t I need one to own and operate a firearm?”
Jolie Justus, Kansas City Council member: “If Missouri is not going to enact common sense gun regulations, it should remove the barriers that prevent local municipalities and counties from enacting their own regulations. Local control of gun laws should be allowed. For instance, cities should be able to enact gun free zones, to allow law enforcement to check for weapons.”
Mike Burke, lawyer and former member of the Kansas City Council: “An assault rifle ban would be my top priority. An assault rifle is not used for hunting. It is for killing.”
Michael Barrett, Missouri State Public Defender director: “Need to address the issue of persons who struggle with mental health issues having easy access to firearms.”
Ken Novak, UMKC professor of criminal justice and criminology: “Research demonstrates states with weak gun laws have higher rates of gun-related homicides and gun-related suicides.
“Missouri gun laws are among the weakest in the United States.
“Rethinking laws related to concealed carry and ‘stand your ground’ self defense laws would make Missourians safer. Over the past 15 years state legislators have chipped away at common sense gun control, including concealed weapons (where today we have permit-less carry where anyone 19 years or older may carry without a permit or training), reducing permit requirements to purchase firearms (especially private party sales, such as gun shows) and removing the duty to retreat while in public to avoid lethal violence. These changes, in totality, have increased the number of guns in circulation while making prosecution for gun related violence more difficult.
“There’s a saying: “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. That’s true. But more specifically: People with guns kill people. Missouri, and especially urban areas like St. Louis and Kansas City, will continue to be among the most violent areas of the country until more common sense gun laws are enacted.”
Jack Danforth, former U.S. senator: “The most important change would be to limit the availability of guns capable of firing multiple rounds in a very short period of time for the reason that this would reduce the number of people who could be fired upon in a single incident.”
Gwen Grant, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City: “The ideal would be to overturn Missouri’s conceal/carry law, which is highly unlikely with the current legislature. Short of overturning the law, strengthening regulations relative to conceal/carry is the next best thing. Current law requires neither a criminal background check nor that the gun owner be trained or certified to safely carry and discharge a firearm. It is not unreasonable to expect that anyone being allowed to conceal and carry a weapon be trained on how to use it safely and that that individual have no prior criminal convictions or history of domestic abuse.”
Scott Charton, CEO of Charton Communications: “Missouri has no state law that restricts domestic abusers from having guns. Missouri’s former concealed carry law barred domestic abusers with orders of protection in effect from obtaining a permit from a sheriff to carry a concealed gun. But when Missouri became an open-carry state because of 2016 law changes, that restriction went away.
“Since the 1990s, federal law has barred those with specific federal convictions for domestic assault and those with a full federal order of protection in effect from legally having guns. But that requires finding a federal ATF agent to make a report to a federal prosecutor and getting the matter before a federal judge. Today’s reality in Missouri is that without a state law, local police cannot help, local prosecutors cannot prosecute and local courts do not have jurisdiction to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
“This year, House Bill 2276 by Rep. Donna Lichtenegger of Cape Girardeau would have addressed this issue by modeling a Missouri law on provisions of the federal law. The bill was recommended for passage in April by two Missouri House committees with zero opposition testimony and no votes against, but it was never referred to the calendar for consideration by the full House. The situation is dangerous for victims and families, and we read the tragic accounts too often of domestic violence resulting in deaths by gun. It is past time to restrict legal access to firearms by domestic abusers.”
Dianne Lynch, president of Stephens College: “I’m with the American majority on this one: more than two-thirds of us believe that there should be enhanced background checks and some limitations on the sale of assault rifles and other military-grade weapons. We’re a common-sense group, we Americans, and we can’t imagine why anybody needs an AR-15 for sport or self-defense. We support the Second Amendment. But as is the case with every other right enumerated in the Bill of Rights — from free speech and assembly to protection against cruel and unusual punishment — our political leaders have a responsibility to establish a balance between personal liberty and the public good.”
James Harris, political strategist: “None. Missouri is a state that strongly supports the 2nd amendment.”
Ryan Silvey, Missouri Public Service commissioner, former state senator: “Missouri needs to create and fund special gun courts. By having a specific docket to address only gun crimes, as we have done for drug courts, veterans courts, etc., we could ensure those cases are handled swiftly and not caught behind a backlog of less serious cases.”
Leland Shurin, attorney and chairman of Kansas City Police Board: “Require training in gun safety before a person can carry a weapon. It is self evident that the person carrying the weapon will be safer as will the public.”
Scott Wagner, Kansas City mayor pro tem: “Use common sense and look what other western countries are doing to curb the violence.”
Bob Holden, former governor: “Effective background checks and eliminate automatic weapons.”
John Fierro, Kansas City Public Schools board member: “Require comprehensive background checks, outlaw assault rifles and raise the minimum age to carry a firearm.”
Mark Bryant, attorney and former Kansas City Council member: “The most important change that should be made in Missouri gun laws is to repeal the right to carry weapons whether concealed or not. The proliferation of weapons has not reduced crime. If anything, the proliferation of weapons has contributed to the rise in violent crimes committed by persons during heightened emotional states. Reducing the availability of dangerous weapons will result if fewer violent acts committed during fits of rage.”
Jennifer Lowry, chief toxicologist at Children’s Mercy: “While the Supreme Court has agreed that the 2nd Amendment allows for the ownership of guns in our country, limitations are required to ensure that those who shouldn’t have guns are not able to obtain them. This includes mandatory background checks for all sales of guns including private and public sales so that those with mental illness, a history of violence and those who are not considered adult cannot own a fire arm. Additionally, the use of semi-automatic weapons or those accessories that allow the bypass of the original intent of a firearm to increase the rounds fired per time are not necessary and should be banned except for military operations.”
Vernon Howard, pastor and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City: “There are several. Currently it appears that Missouri is akin to a contemporary version of a ‘wild, wild, west society’ where firearm proliferation and trade are virtually ungoverned. Dealers have scarce to no regulation. There is no background check on all firearm sales. No permit is needed to purchase a gun. Even registration of a purchased gun is not required. This virtual non-regulated “state” is a major factor lending to the scourge of gun violence that plagues urban, suburban, and rural communities across Missouri. Urban centers in Kansas City and St. Louis are the most chronically and negatively influenced by such “free-dealing” gun trade and possession enterprise. The results are large scale underground gun trafficking (both legal and illegal), ease of access to individuals including those who have not acted and will not act responsibly, and increases in gun violence, and murder which we here in Kansas City and our sister in St. Louis have suffered from.
“The most irresponsible action however, is the inaction of state and federal legislation to bring order and civility. Additionally, advocates for peace and justice should be marching, protesting, advocating, and dramatizing this problem on a sustained basis.
“For the first time in our history as a nation, reports have revealed that there are close to as many civilian guns in America then there are Americans. Other reports suggest perhaps 80 to 90 weapons per 100 citizens. America’s core belief that gun possession brings safety and protection are false and erroneous. So long as there are cultural, political, and social relationships that cause persons to feel the need to own a gun for protection, our battle has been lost.
“No one can argue that the gun is the primary use of loss of life and destruction chosen by perpetrators of violence. No one can argue that billions of dollars of profits are tied to the manufacturing and distribution to feed the demand. Herein lies a great moral failure of the NRA and our nation which honors profit and wealth generated from the industry over loss of life and love and domestic tranquility.”
Brenda Bethman, director of UMKC Women’s Center: “Ban assault weapons. There is no need for average citizens to own these.”
John Hancock, political consultant, former Missouri GOP chairman: “Bump stocks should be illegal. Mental health screenings should be more thorough.”
Maurice Watson, partner at Husch Blackwell: “Easy access to and widespread availability of guns is the greatest concern. Tightening regulations of gun sales at gun shows and secondary markets is needed.”
Jean Paul Bradshaw, lawyer and former U.S. attorney: “I don’t think I’m knowledgeable enough to accurately give an opinion on this. I do think that whatever change is made should focus on the person acquiring or owning the gun. I’ve seen no real suggestions at the national level that would have made a difference in any of the mass shootings that get the bulk of the public attention.”
Quinton Lucas, Kansas City Council member: “Should allow local citizens to have jurisdiction in gun control. I think citizens should have a voice in it. The legislature should change or basically allow local municipalities to come up with creative answers to gun regulation.”
Jeff Simon, managing partner, Husch Blackwell: “Treat cheap handguns and assault weapons differently than other firearms.”
Gregg Keller, principal of Atlas Strategy Group: “Any and all legislative assistance necessary to arm responsible, trained school teachers in Missouri schools should be undertaken.”
▪ How can lawmakers best strike a balance between gun control and gun rights?
Chris Maples, interim chancellor at Missouri University for Science & Technology: “The best way to strike a balance between gun control and gun rights is to enforce existing laws and limit gun sales to people convicted of violent (domestic abuse, gang violence, etc.) crimes. Possession of guns by those convicted of violent crimes should carry mandatory prison time.”
Roy Temple, political strategist and former chairman of the Missouri Democratic Party: “The most important change the legislature could make in the way it approaches gun safety measures is to undertake an open and honest conversation on the merits of various policy choices, rather than submitting themselves to the will of the NRA.”
Phil Snowden, University of Missouri Board of Curators member, former legislator: “Use common sense and look what other western countries are doing to curb the violence.”
Patrick Tuohey, Show-Me Institute director of municipal policy: “I don’t know that the issue, as politicized as it has become, allows for any such balance to be struck.”
Thomas Curran, president of Rockhurst University: “Lawmakers need to write legislation that makes it clear that while owning a gun is a right, it is not without limits. Gun ownership does not involve keeping and carrying any weapon for any manner and for whatever purpose.”
Patrick Ishmael, director of government accountability for The Show-Me Institute: “Legislative attempts to subtract Constitutional rights should be met with far greater skepticism and concern than is typically seen in the discussion over the Second Amendment. Apart from the Constitutional barriers to many gun control proposals, policymakers should be far more critical of proposed laws that, in practice, have been wholly ineffective in reducing gun violence.”