JEFFERSON CITY — Children older than 12 could be tried as adults for firearm offenses if a bill debated by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday becomes law.
Sen. Wayne Wallingford, R-Cape Girardeau, said “this is one of the governor’s priorities” and was brought to him to carry through the Senate. Gov. Mike Parson has met with mayors of the state’s cities to discuss solutions in combating the rising gun violence.
“He had talks with people from those cities, the mayors and that, and I also know he works for protecting Second Amendment rights,” Wallingford said. “How do you protect Second Amendment rights but deal with crime, deal with use of a weapon? This might be the best way to compromise with that.”
The bill would not require minors charged with armed criminal action or unlawful use of a firearm to be tried as adults, but it would require them to go before a judge who would determine how to try them.
Jimmie Edwards, director of the St. Louis Public Safety Department, testified in favor of the bill. Edwards served as a circuit judge in St. Louis from 1992-2017 and said just bringing a minor before the court for a certification hearing is enough of a deterrent.
Edwards also testified on behalf of a mayor’s working group, including the mayors of Columbia, Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield.
During testimony, concerns were raised that the priority should be on preparing for “Raise the Age,” a bill that Wallingford also carried. That legislation passed in 2018, raising the age for automatically trying someone as an adult from 17 to 18. “Raise the Age” goes into effect January 2021.
But the senator, adding that it could be a wake-up call, thinks having young people go before a judge to determine whether to be tried as an adult would help steer young people off the path of crime as well.
“I know that would get my attention, certainly, and I think that’s the thought,” Wallingford said, “that this would get the attention of those people to say, ‘This is probably not a good idea to go down the road that I’m currently going down.’”
“People should know I support rehabilitation of our youth very strongly,” he added.
The committee also heard testimony on SB 778, which introduces penalties for purposefully flying drones over corrections, mental health and open air facilities. This bill is nearly identical to one that was proposed last session that failed to make it over the finish line by the end of session.