JEFFERSON CITY — From tougher penalties for illegal gun use to expansion of the places guns can legally be carried, at least 72 firearm-related bills have been filed so far this legislative session. That’s the largest number in a decade.
For Democrats, who make up a minority of the legislature, significant across-the-aisle support will be needed in order to pass any of their proposed policies. Republicans, on the other hand, could have a much easier time seeing their bills become law.
Around 45 of those bills aim to restrict access or add regulations to the use of guns in some form, while almost all the rest want to make sure Second Amendment rights aren’t infringed upon or are expanded. Here is a look at some of this year’s more notable gun bills.
One of the only proposals with bipartisan sponsorship is Blair’s Law, backed by Rep. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, Rep. Rory Rowland, D-Independence, and Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City. The law would prohibit discharging a firearm within or into any municipality, but with numerous exceptions. Some of those include supervised shooting ranges, justifiable self-defense and areas that are more than a mile from any occupied structure.
Named after 11-year-old Blair Shanahan Lane, the bill would punish the perpetrator with a Class A misdemeanor. Lane died in 2011 from a stray bullet fired by a group of men engaged in “celebratory gunfire” for Independence Day. Blair’s mother asked Rowland to carry the bill, the legislator said.
“I was honored that she asked,” Rowland said. “Celebratory gunfire now is almost like a parking ticket. ... There needs to be consequences for unrestrained use of any tool.”
Blair’s Law was proposed in 2018, when it passed out of a House committee with no opposition. Not much headway was made last year, when it didn’t receive a public hearing. This time around, Rowland has asked House leadership for a hearing and believes the bipartisan support “absolutely” gives the bill a boost.
Schroer was the one who reached across the aisle to sponsor the mostly Democratic-backed bill. Repeated attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
Five bills increasing the punishment for firearm-related crimes have all come from Republicans.
Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake St. Louis; Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville; and Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff, are all targeting the unlawful transferring, possession of and use of firearms. Under their proposals, the illegal selling or giving away of a firearm would be upped to a Class E felony from a misdemeanor, while owning a firearm illegally would be a Class C felony instead of Class D. The higher levels bring stiffer penalties.
For armed criminal action punishments, Onder would increase the incarceration duration to at least five, 10 and 15 years for first, second and subsequent offenses, respectively. Luetkemeyer and Libla combined their bills and call for similar penalties.
“We must acknowledge that the proper place for violent criminals is in prison — not on probation,” Luetkemeyer said at his bill’s public hearing. “Just like mass incarceration for minor crime is misguided, so too is mass release for violent crime.”
Democrats were hesitant to agree, with House Minority Leader Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, saying they’re unlikely to support tougher criminal penalties, according to previous Missourian reporting.
Red flag laws
A large theme among Democrat-filed gun legislation revolves around the idea of restraining orders that would prohibit certain individuals from possessing or purchasing a firearm.
Some focus on prohibiting guns for those convicted of domestic violence or subject to a protection order, hoping to reverse a loophole created when legislators effectively removed the requirement of criminal background checks by legalizing concealed carry without a permit. Violators would be faced with the crime of unlawful possession of a weapon, which is a Class D felony.
“Missouri’s lax laws are keeping guns in the hands of known violent abusers, leading to injuries and deaths that can be prevented with the passage of this law,” Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, said in a news release.
Beyond domestic violence, other bills call for various versions of a “firearms restraining order,” targeting people believed to pose a danger to themselves or others by use of a weapon. Generally, family members or police could petition the court to file the order, and then a hearing would be held within a number of days to determine its necessity. If the order is issued, the person would need to surrender all firearms and concealed carry permits.
Some of the legislation went further, calling for “emergency” or more urgent restraining orders, in which temporary orders would be issued to those posing an immediate risk. A temporary hearing would be required the day of or after the filing.
The window in which the hearing must be held from the day a petition is filed varies by bill, along with the duration of an order, but most would require restraining orders to last at least six months.
Efforts in recent years to prohibit only domestic violence abusers from owning guns have fallen short. Without major support from Republicans, few are likely to even make it out of committee.
“I have to continue to talk to folks on the other side of the aisle and get them to understand,” said Rep. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, who is sponsoring one of the bills. “We need them to have a little empathy, to understand people are dying — children are dying — on the streets. We can’t simply not act.”
Many Republicans, though, remain skeptical of such measures.
“Anything that restricts law-abiding citizens’ ability to enjoy their Second Amendment rights is not very likely to have any traction,” President Pro Tem Sen. Dave Schatz, R- Sullivan, said. “If we’re talking about red flag laws or whatever, the concerns are about ... an individual’s right to due process, and, so, taking away someone’s Second Amendment rights without due process is probably a nonstarter as well.”
Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, has been pushing since 2017 to expand the list of places where concealed carry should be allowed. This year, Rep. Bryan Spencer, R-Wentzville, and Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield, are joining Taylor in sponsoring the legislation, the most comprehensive on concealed carry.
In short, this bill would allow concealed carry into currently prohibited places such as:
- Churches and places of worship.
- Election precincts and polling places.
- Businesses selling alcohol for consumption on premises.
- Child care facilities.
- Riverboat gambling operations open to the public.
- Gated areas of an amusement park.
- Hospitals accessible by the public.
- Meetings of a governing body in local government.
- Certain buildings owned or occupied by the government.
- School buses.
Democrats and those wary of looser gun laws have expressed concern about such changes in the past.
“A bar owner isn’t going to know that there’s somebody with a concealed carry because it’s concealed,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said in 2018 on Taylor’s bill. “It’s not until that bar fight turns deadly that the bar owner is going to find out.”
But Taylor believes allowing more places where people can conceal carry is actually important to improving safety. He talked about the Fort Worth, Texas-area shooting at a church in December, where armed church security stopped a gunmen after two people were killed. Texas Republicans have credited state laws allowing firearms in places of worship for preventing more deaths.
“Contrast that to what happened a couple years ago in Texas, where an individual went into a church and killed, I think, 26 or 27 people and no one was able to stop him in that church because it’s against the law to carry into a church in the state of Texas at the time, just like what it is in the state of Missouri right now,” he said, referencing the Sutherland Springs church shooting.
In addition, the legislation would leave it up to higher education institutions to craft policies around concealed carry on campus, but it states that such policies “shall not generally prohibit” concealed carry. Another part of the bill decriminalizes the offense of bringing a concealed firearm onto a private property prohibiting it, instead punishing with citations.
Taylor’s bill never made it into the Missouri Senate in the past, despite a Republican majority.
Taylor noted that some of his colleagues are in competitive districts, “and they always have concerns when it comes to issues dealing with controversial subjects, and this just happens to be one of them.”
But he said he is hopeful this year, noting how the Texas legislature made the concealed carry changes after the Sutherland Springs shooting.
Beyond this, other Republicans have also proposed expanding the list where concealed carry is legal but on a much smaller scale. Three bills want to add public transportation to the list, while one bill simply focuses on churches.
From the Democratic side, Rep. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City, wants to prohibit concealed carry at public libraries. In Columbia, a dispute between the Columbia Public Library and state Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, arose in 2017 after Reisch carried a firearm into the library. Afterward, the library changed its policies to allow concealed firearms.
The library is aware of Washington’s bill and is keeping track of it, a spokesperson said.
A possible area where bipartisan collaboration could occur is legislation revolving around stolen firearms.
Rep. Don Mayhew, R-Crocker, has a bill that would require the Missouri State Highway Patrol to host a public website containing the serial numbers of firearms that have been reported stolen. The highway patrol already keeps the information, but current law prohibits law enforcement from sharing it, he said.
“If you’re trying to purchase a firearm, there’s no way for you to know whether or not it’s stolen,” he said. “If that website is available, it essentially makes stolen guns worthless because if you try to sell me a gun, then all I get to do is pull (the website) up and look at it.”
Another bill addresses the fact that it remains up to the owner to report the firearm if he or she finds it lost or stolen. Freshman Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, wants to change that.
Aldridge is pushing a bill requiring gun owners to report to law enforcement lost and stolen firearms within 72 hours of discovering such. Penalties would be a warning, a maximum $100 fine, a maximum $1000 fine and a Class B misdemeanor for first, second, third and subsequent violations, respectively.
But multiple attempts by his predecessor, former Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., to pass the same law failed, to the extent it has never had a public hearing in the past three years. Aldridge said he’ll need to reach across the aisle for a better chance this time around.
“That’s what I plan and go in and do, is try and build some good relationships with my counterpart,” he said. “We have a lot more in common than we have against each other. I think we all want the best for the state of Missouri.”
Both Mayhew and Aldridge stated the same goal for their bills: to help fight against the problem of stolen guns. Whether they will help each other out remains to be seen.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Mayhew commented on Aldridge’s legislation, while also adding that he hadn’t read it yet. “If I had a gun stolen, it wouldn’t take me 72 hours to report it stolen.”
Aldridge added he wants to reach out to Mayhew to see how their bills could work together and that he thinks Mayhew’s legislation is a step in the right direction. After speaking with the Missourian, he added himself as a co-sponsor to Mayhew’s bill.