JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri lawmaker is proposing to send colleagues to prison for introducing gun control legislation — a plan that even its sponsor acknowledges has no chance of passage but nonetheless highlights the increasingly strident tone of gun measures in Missouri's generally pro-gun legislature.
Rep. Mike Leara said Tuesday that he considers his bill a statement of principle. It would make lawmakers guilty of a felony punishable by up to four years in prison if they introduce legislation restricting gun rights.
"I have no illusions about the bill making it through the legislative process, but I want it to be clear that the Missouri House will stand in defense of the people's constitutional right to keep and bear arms," Leara, a Republican from suburban St. Louis, said in a written statement. He declined further comment.
Since last year's deadly mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut, state and federal lawmakers have grappled with gun legislation. President Barack Obama has proposed an assault weapons ban, background checks and restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines. But Missouri's Republican-led legislature has taken a different approach — more guns, not less.
State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis, called Leara's measure "unconstitutional" and said she would go directly to prison if the bill passes. Newman is the sponsor of a measure that would require guns to be sold by a licensed dealer and force that dealer to conduct a background check.
Even one of Leara's fellow Republicans said he probably wouldn't support the bill.
"Everybody should have a right to introduce bills, even bad ones," said state Rep. Kevin Engler, of Farmington, a former state senator who has sponsored National Rifle Association-supported legislation in previous years.
Leara's measure comes less than a week after St. Louis-area House Democrats introduced legislation containing an assault weapons ban. That bill would require owners of semi-automatic weapons to surrender, destroy or send their guns to another state within 90 days of the measure's passage. Sponsoring state Rep. Rory Ellinger said he knows Missouri is a very conservative state, but he still wants a dialogue on gun safety.
Given the two-thirds Republican majority in the legislature, the assault weapons ban probably won't even get a committee hearing. But that hasn't stopped Republicans from attacking the bill with fervor. Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, posted a YouTube video of a physical copy of the bill being shot with a handgun.
One lawmaker has questioned the wisdom of proposing legislation to the ideological extreme of both political parties.
Leara's bill "has as much chance of passing as (the assault weapons ban). Highlights the problem with proposing bills to get attention," tweeted Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.
While Leara's and Ellinger's bill are likely dead on arrival, a state House committee moved forward Tuesday on two proposals that would curb federal gun regulation. One proposal is sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, who said he has decided "to take swift and strong actions to counteract the federal government." Guernsey wants to criminalize the enforcement of any federal gun control laws enacted after Jan. 1, 2013.
The second measure would prevent federal regulation of guns that are manufactured in Missouri and remain inside the state's borders. The committee did not vote on either bill.
Even measures to address gun violence in schools have drawn out the ideological divides in the legislature.
On Tuesday, Missouri's Senate debated but did not vote on a proposal that would require the National Rifle Association's gun-safety program to be taught to elementary school students and mandate that teachers and other school personnel go through training on how to respond to armed intruders.
That bill is being opposed by Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis, who said it does little to address the problem of gun violence by urban gang members whose parents don't supervise them. She said trying to train teachers to respond to "gang bangers" is a "pretty dangerous thing," adding that "a lot of our teachers are kind of petite."
A Senate committee also is considering a state constitutional amendment to broaden the right to bear arms by specifying that it is "inalienable." The measure, sponsored by Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, would also require the state to oppose any "infringement" on that right.