Tens of thousands of people will visit the Plaza Art Fair this weekend. It’s one of the city’s best-known, and best-loved, fall traditions.
It may come as a disturbing surprise that at least some fairgoers will likely be armed. While Missouri law prohibits gun possession in lots of places — police stations, near a polling place, behind airport security, at schools — it does not ban guns at large, outdoor public street gatherings, including the Plaza Art Fair.
Kansas City ordinances are silent on the issue, too.
“While the Plaza’s code of conduct prohibits weapons in the common areas, we do not govern the city streets, and therefore we are not permitted to impose such a rule,” Plaza officials said in a statement to The Star.
This summer’s tragic shooting death of a young woman at a First Friday gathering suggests lawmakers should add outdoor festivals to the list of places where guns are prohibited. If that isn’t possible, the Missouri legislature should at least allow festivals to seek temporary gun bans, or allow local governments to consider issuing time-limited gun-free zone permits.
There is no legitimate reason to carry a weapon at the Plaza Art Fair, or any other large outdoor gathering. Even the most-cited motivation — for self-protection, or to deter others from bringing or using weapons — rings hollow.
Imagine the carnage if an untrained civilian pulled out a gun at a crowded street fair, ostensibly to protect against a “bad guy with a gun.” Hundreds of innocent people would be put at risk, with virtually no legitimate deterrent effect. That’s why trained, armed security is in place.
“Safety is the top priority, and we work closely with KCPD every day, and they will have a significant presence at the event,” fair officials said.
Gun violence at outdoor festivals and concerts is a growing concern. In July, a 6-year-old was murdered at an outdoor food festival in California. Legislators have a duty to take precautions to prevent a similar tragedy in Missouri.
Gun supporters will claim restricting possession at outdoor events violates Second Amendment rights. But Missouri law already prohibits guns at stadiums with more than 5,000 seats, and for good reason.
No one claims a constitutional right to tote a handgun to their seats on the 50-yard line. Reasonable gun restrictions, including those at outdoor fairs, are constitutionally permitted.
Gun rights activists may also argue a ban wouldn’t work — that some visitors will bring weapons anyway, since the use of metal detectors would be impractical. That’s absurd. Drunk-driving laws deter aberrant behavior, even though we don’t catch every drunk driver, or use breath-testing machines at every bar.
Temporarily banning weapons at big outdoor events doesn’t violate the Second Amendment. Had a ban been in place this summer, it’s at least possible tragedy could have been averted downtown. (The inverse is also true: The threat that other people might be carrying a weapon did nothing to deter the shooter.)
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson says a package of gun violence measures is being assembled for consideration next January. While we’re disappointed lawmakers didn’t address the bloodshed this fall, we’ll take the governor at his word that real reform is coming.
Legislators should close the street-fair loophole in 2020.