Van Vuong was inside Union Station one chilly morning this week waiting for the streetcar as she contemplated the question of whether guns should be allowed on Missouri’s public transit systems.
Vuong, who lives in Prairie Village, had a quick response: “That would scare the crap out of me.”
She pointed to a series of obvious concerns: The streetcar is a public space. Anybody can step aboard. Passengers typically are surrounded by strangers. And it goes without saying that there’s nowhere to run — or hide — once the streetcar starts moving.
“The world we live in today,” she said, “bad things happen.”
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Vuong gets it. So you can’t help but wonder what Missouri state Sen. Bob Onder, a Lake St. Louis Republican, is thinking. He is pushing a bill that would make it legal for a concealed-carry permit holder to bring firearms onto buses or streetcars.
Under current law, bringing a gun onto public transit systems is a felony. But Onder’s legislation would undo that, much to the consternation of public transit officials who have mobilized against the measure. The bill would not affect Amtrak trains.
“We are definitely opposed to it as well,” said Cindy Baker, a spokeswoman for the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority. “We just don’t feel like a crowded bus is a place for guns of any kind. You can’t guarantee how well trained people are. You can’t guarantee the mental health of people getting on and off of buses.”
Onder is not deterred. In an interview, he said the measure would place doubts in the minds of criminals considering mayhem.
“It’s very rare that citizens actually need to fire their weapon in order to prevent crime,” he said. But experts also say there’s no guarantee that under pressure, they would hit their target.
The measure is yet another example of rural lawmakers trying to dictate rules to cities. It also represents another one more by the gun-rights crowd that clings to the belief that the world is better off with guns here, there and everywhere. Onder, a doctor, is an NRA life member.
His bill appears to be in response to turmoil at the Metro Transit in St. Louis where the agency’s top security official was ousted following the August fatal shooting of a well-known official awaiting a bus. The next month, the St. Louis County Council voted to withhold millions in Metrolink funding until authorities boosted security.
Violent incidents on Kansas City buses crop up, but not often. Hugh Mills, the KCATA’s security chief, said a gun was produced in only one event last year, and it wasn’t discharged. On Wednesday, a man stole a gun from a woman aboard a Kansas City bus, an incident that highlights one more danger if Onder’s bill becomes law and more guns are brought aboard buses, Mills said. No shots were fired.
Transit insiders are concerned Onder’s bill could win approval in Missouri’s pro-gun-rights legislature, even though firearms are prohibited on many transit systems nationwide.
Mills, a former soldier, police officer and sheriff, insisted that allowing guns on public transit is not a Second Amendment matter.
“This is a public policy issue,” he said. “The public policy is, do we need folks armed on a 40-passenger bus? Especially when concealed carry does not have any measure of training involved?”
The answer is no.