JEFFERSON CITY — Police officers, public health experts and licensed gun sellers were among several groups that testified on gun violence in front of Missouri lawmakers Monday.
The Missouri Senate Interim Committee on Public Safety heard testimony for over six hours on gun crime in the state. Speakers, who were only allowed to testify in front of the committee if they were invited, discussed their opinions about solutions to gun violence, potential legislation and trends in law enforcement that hurt public safety.
Missouri has one of the highest rates of gun-related deaths in the nation, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Solutions raised at the hearing ranged from increased funding for police departments, public health approaches and stricter gun laws.
The purpose of the meeting, said committee Chairman Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, was to hear the opinions and experiences from a wide variety of experts and report the findings to the Missouri Senate in January.
Members of law enforcement in attendance mostly discussed gun violence in their jurisdictions. Missouri Police Chiefs Association President Sean Fagan said he’s heard from his membership that it has been more difficult to recruit and retain police officers since the killing of Michael Brown in 2014, which led to unrest in Ferguson. He suggested lawmakers look at increasing pay and support from the state.
Sgt. Heather Taylor, an officer in the St. Louis City Police Department and president of the Ethical Society of Police, urged committee members to identify the underlying problems of gun violence and think of systemic solutions other than increased law enforcement.
“All of these things may seem liberal and, to some, are unimportant, but they are important because you cannot arrest your way out of crime or violent crime. It’s never going to work,” Taylor said. “We’ve been doing that for decades, and look at where we’re at.”
Mark Hoofnagle, an assistant professor of acute and critical care surgery at Washington University in St. Louis, testified about his own experience with gun-related homicides. While working as a trauma surgeon, Hoofnagle said, he witnessed cases of homicide that affected entire families. He said that because of this, gun violence should be approached as a public health issue.
“It’s an epidemic that has the capacity to kill every member of a generation,” Hoofnagle said.
He pointed to research done by the American College of Surgeons’ Committee on Trauma and the Eastern Association for the Surgery of Trauma that suggests universal background checks and red flag laws are viable solutions. Red flag laws would allow police or family members to legally remove a firearm from someone’s possession if they present a threat to themselves or others.
Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, did not agree with Hoofnagle’s suggestions for red flag laws.
“That’s assuming that they are guilty before they’ve had any kind of due process,” Riddle said. “I would find that an infringement on my Second Amendment rights.”
Craig Highland, a registered firearms dealer and attorney, also testified that the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for reporting data to the government is inconsistent and that regulation on universal background checks should be considered.
“Missouri has not been sharing 100% of their criminal history data and 100% of their mental health data with NICS,” Highland said. He testified that within the past two months, he has had two customers who were “perfectly entitled to purchase firearms” fail to pass background checks because of faulty data.
Missouri lawmakers have predicted that gun violence will continue to be a significant topic in Jefferson City. After several of their bills to address it were not heard at the special legislative session in September, Missouri Democrats said they will bring them back during the regular session this January.
Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.