Hidden handguns might soon be banned in city-owned buildings, but Columbia and other cities can do nothing to prohibit them in city parks.
An ordinance originally discussed and tabled by the Columbia City Council in October has been reintroduced and will be up for final approval at the council’s April 19 meeting. It would change city law to match Missouri’s new law regarding concealed guns.
Right now, Columbia law forbids carrying guns, concealed or otherwise, into city parks. If the new ordinance passes, Columbia’s law would fall in line with the state’s, which allows people with permits to carry concealed guns into parks.
That’s bad news, said Gary Markenson, executive director of the Missouri Municipal League.
“Cities statewide are distressed that they can’t keep guns out of parks,” he said, “and that’s something we’d like to change.”
Mike Hood, director of the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, said weapons in parks “are always a concern.”
“We’ve had an ordinance for years prohibiting weapons from parks, and we’re comfortable with that,” he said, adding that the department does not want firearms to be used in parks.
At Columbia’s Cosmopolitan Park, residents said they had mixed feelings about concealed guns.
“If they’re going to ban them from city buildings, then guns shouldn’t be allowed in parks where kids play,” said Anglia Redden, who was enjoying a day at the park with her 4-year-old son, Lajavion. She worried that trouble could arise with people packing heat in the parks or that a hidden handgun might accidentally discharge.
“I’m not a big gun person anyway, and I’ve never had or seen a problem at the park,” Redden said, “but anything could happen at any given time.”
Beth Campbell and her sister, Theresa Gunn, were also visiting Cosmo Park. Campbell echoed Redden’s reservations.
“I’m afraid of it accidentally going off,” Campbell said, adding that children might be confused if they saw members of the public carrying guns around. “I’d also be scared of kids seeing someone’s gun and not knowing if they were safe or not.”
The Missouri General Assembly approved the concealed firearms law in September over the veto of Gov. Bob Holden. While the state statute does not prohibit people from carrying concealed guns into city buildings, it gives cities the power to do so.
The ordinance before the council contains several provisions designed to ensure people don’t pack guns into city buildings. It would require signs to be posted to alert residents of the prohibition. It also makes clear that the term “city buildings” does not include public housing, highways and rest areas, none of which would not have to comply with the ordinance.
Columbia police officers would also be unaffected.
Columbia Police Chief Randy Boehm said the state statute could cause slight complications for officers but won’t change basic protocol.
“Concealing a weapon used to be illegal,” Boehm said, explaining that officers used to be able to presume that someone hiding a gun was up to no good.
“Now we can’t assume that,” he said. “Officer safety is important, and we approach a situation as if someone is armed, but the ordinance won’t change how we do business.”
Boehm noted that those who are intent on committing crimes with guns probably won’t care about permit issues.