JEFFERSON CITY — Several hundred gun-rights advocates rallied at the state Capitol on Thursday as the Missouri House passed a bill that would greatly expand who can legally carry a weapon and allow certain school personnel to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
Wearing orange buttons with phrases such as, "Guns Save Lives," the Missouri Sports Shooter Association held a previously scheduled rally in the Capitol rotunda while the House was debating the bill. The crowd cheered as Republicans and Democrats left the House and Senate while the chambers were in session in order to address the crowd.
The House lived up to the energetic crowd's expectations shortly after the rally ended by passing one of the largest expansions of gun rights since the Legislature passed a law allowing concealed weapons in 2003. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Doug Funderburk would allow appointed school "protection officers" to carry concealed weapons, as long as they have a valid permit and register with the state Department of Public Safety.
The bill was passed with a 115-41 vote, one day after a small group of U.S. Senate Democrats from rural states joined with Republicans to reject more extensive background checks for gun purchasers and proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
Steve Spellman, who attended the Capitol rally, said he was glad that Missouri was taking steps to protect gun rights, instead of relying on federal action.
"This is too big of a country to have a one size fits all approach," said Spellman, who works in the financial services industry.
The Missouri House measure would also declare federal gun laws to be unenforceable within the state's borders, a component that Democrats chided as unconstitutional. Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the bill won't be enforced but "to do so would be literally secession" from the United States.
Many of Kelly's fellow Democrats opposed the bill arguing that it puts the state in conflict with federal law, but does nothing to make schools safer.
"I feel that what is really outrageous are the 20 children killed in Sandy Hook ... but (the House) thinks it is outrageous that we have to shield ourselves from background checks for criminals and for the mentally ill. I am appalled," said Rep. Margo McNeil, D-St. Louis. She was referring to the December attack in Newtown, Conn., in which a gunman killed 20 Sandy Hook Elementary School students and six adult staff members within a matter of minutes before killing himself.
Missouri law currently allows concealed guns to be carried by people age 21 and older who haven't been convicted of a felony or deemed mentally incompetent, and who pass a firearms training course and background check. But the House legislation would lower the age requirement and allow people age 19 to apply for a permit. The measure also allows concealed weapon permit holders to openly carry firearms that are less than 16 inches long.
Rally-goer Debbie Dickson said she supports the minimum age reduction for concealed weapons permits. She said it was the role of parents, not the government, to educate about guns and safety.
But the legislation's opponents disagreed and argued against allowing more people to have access to guns.
"All that does is enabling more people to be able to purchase more weapons," said Rep. Stacey Newman, D-St. Louis. "If you take college kids, alcohol, and you introduce more weapons that is a recipe for absolute disaster."
The bill also includes a provision that would prohibit health professionals from being required to ask people about firearm ownership or documenting it in medical records.
While gun control proposals at the federal level may have prompted the House legislation, Republican lawmakers are also looking to ease privacy concerns within the state. Republicans are concerned about a new Revenue Department procedure that scans personal documents of license applicants to be kept on state computers and have criticized the Highway Patrol for providing data on concealed gun permit holders to a federal Social Security fraud investigator.
"I don't want any private records to be spread when everyone can see them," Dickson said.
The bill would also make it illegal to publish any identifying information about a gun owner or a person applying for a permit to own or carry a firearm. A person or entity publishing such information would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.