COLUMBIA — A bill prefiled in the Missouri House could punish improper storage of firearms by up to a year in prison if it passes during the next legislative session.
Across the country, numerous bills have been introduced in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting that resulted in the deaths of 20 children, six adults at an elementary school, the gunman and his mother.
Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, filed a bill Thursday that would require gun owners to either use gun locking devices or store guns in a locked safe or box. A violation would result in a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Law enforcement and active members of the armed forces would be exempt.
Colona said he believes that his bill, if passed, would prevent unauthorized people from gaining access to guns.
"Let's say you have a rifle, and you have it stored in your bedroom closet," he said. "Anybody that walks into the home and snoops into your closet can grab your gun and start shooting people. You got a gun lock on it, you got it in a gun safe? Not gonna happen."
Colona, who said he is a supporter of Second Amendment rights, hopes that his bill would appeal to legislators on both sides of the aisle.
"I think responsible gun ownership — responsible gun control — that those goals are shared by everyone, regardless of their party ID," he said.
Major Tom Reddin of the Boone County Sheriff's Department said that though locking up guns would result in fewer stolen guns and fewer accidental injuries, he thinks the bill would be difficult to enforce if passed.
"Passage of law is not the end-all in terms of reducing incidents," he said, explaining that law enforcement would not be able to go into people's homes just to check that firearms are properly secured.
Colona believes, however, that gun owners would be motivated to comply with the law on their own.
"The whole idea is that gun owners are good people and they want to be responsible," he said.
If passed, Colona expects the law would increase gun-safety awareness.
"At the end of the day, it would be a self-enforced proposition, but you could say that about many of the laws that we have on the books," he said.
Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said the bill would act as a deterrent by making gun owners aware that if their guns are stolen, they could face a penalty.
"The fact that Connecticut and very, very few other states have any type of requirements for how you safely store firearms is a serious issue in terms of deficiencies in our gun laws," he said.
Rep.-elect John Wright, D-Rocheport, will need more convincing before deciding to support the bill.
"I think on both sides it's important that we construct policy based on data and analysis and make sure we don't construct policy based on emotion," he said.
Rep.-elect Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, was categorical in his opposition to the bill.
"Half of my district is rural, with a high population of gun owners, and I wouldn't support legislation that would punish them and infringe on their Second Amendment rights," he said.
Only the District of Columbia and Massachusetts require all firearms to be stored with a lock in place, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Kevin Jamison, president of the Missouri Sport Shooting Association, thinks there are a number of problems with the bill. It could make gun owners hesitant in reporting stolen guns to the police because they would fear being punished for not having locked them up, he said.
Jamison also believes the bill would make it harder for people to act in self-defense because of the time it could take to unlock a gun.
Ultimately, deciding how to store firearms should be up to gun owners, Jamison said.
"The people who own guns have a vested interest in not getting them stolen," he said. "And we don't really need the government to tell us how to take care of our own property."
Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.