News Column

Missouri Lawmakers Stick to Pro-gun Trends

Jan. 28, 2013

Elizabeth Crisp

While federal officials and lawmakers in other states consider ways to tighten gun regulations, Missouri legislators are mostly looking to expand gun rights.

In the first month of the Legislature's 2013 session, a dozen bills have been filed to loosen gun restrictions, including proposals that would allow teachers to carry guns in their classrooms and make it illegal to enforce certain federal firearms laws.

After a deadly school shooting in Connecticut last month, liberal groups have been calling for a review of gun policies across the country. Earlier this month, President Barack Obama announced a series of reforms targeting gun violence through executive order. He also called on Congress to pass measures to require universal background checks for gun purchases, and legislators in New York recently passed one of the strictest gun laws in the nation.

But Missouri lawmakers have worked for several years to scale back the state's gun restrictions and appear unlikely to move from that position.

Their fondness for firearms is perhaps best illustrated in the fact that several carry guns in the Capitol, thanks to a law enacted in 2011. Skeet shoots, "shoot outs" and other activities involving live firearms were popular fundraising events for legislative candidates during last year's election cycle.

During his decade in the Legislature, Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, has often been at the forefront of pro-gun legislation.

"We've trended toward more freedoms for law-abiding citizens," he said. "We're protecting the right to protect ourselves."

Recent efforts have included approval and growth of the state's concealed carry law and the passage of a "Castle Doctrine" law.

For many Republican lawmakers, the issue is simple: "Constituents in my area are really concerned about overreach of the federal government," said Rep. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield. "What many consider a way of life is at risk."

Munzlinger is sponsoring a bill this session that would prohibit the enforcement of any new federal laws that restrict access to semiautomatic firearms or magazines.

"Criminals don't obey laws -- you can pass all the laws you want and it won't stop a criminal," he said. "It takes good people in society to obeys laws, and when you put laws out there that infringe on freedoms you're just hurting the law-abiding citizens."

Munzlinger called the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting "a very hideous crime," but he said it shouldn't be used to push restrictions on lawful gun owners.

"That was a cowardly act by a deranged individual who had actually been turned down in a background check," Munzlinger said.

The Los Angeles Times reported in December that the Sandy Hook shooter, Adam Lanza, did not undergo a background check. He was turned away at a gun shop because he did not want to wait for the required 14-day check, law enforcement sources said.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Democrats have filed bills to try to keep tabs on guns in Missouri. Most observers believe they have little chance of passage in the GOP-dominated Legislature.

Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, has introduced a bill that would make it illegal to negligently store a firearm and would require parents to inform schools if they have guns in the home.

"Since August of last year, there have been more than a dozen incidents involving teenagers and guns in just the 14th Senate district alone," she said. "In most cases, the guns have been stolen from an unsecured place in the home and then used in robberies, carjackings and even murder."

Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, has filed a bill that would close the "gun show loophole," which allows certain sales at gun shows to be made without background checks or waiting periods.

"Fixing loopholes does nothing to lawful gun owners," she said. "These efforts are common sense."

Nationally, the debate over gun regulation has mostly split along long-standing political divides -- states with strict gun laws want to go further, and those with more lax regulations are looking for alternative means to address gun safety and mass shootings.

In Missouri, several House Republicans, including House Speaker Tim Jones of Eureka, and Majority Floor Leader John Diehl of Town and Country, have signed onto legislation that would allow teachers and other school administrators to carry concealed firearms on school property with the proper licensing.

The bill prompted Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat who cut the ribbon at the opening of the National Rifle Association's convention in St. Louis last year, to send a letter to school district superintendents expressing his opposition to the effort.

Meanwhile, a bill in the Senate would require school districts and charter schools to train teachers and other employees how to respond in dangerous situations. It also would require schools to teach the NRA's Eddie Eagle Gun Safe Program or a similar program to all first-graders.

Jones said he hadn't reviewed all of the gun legislation that has been filed this session.

"I support the Second Amendment," he said. "We're going to vet all these issues."

He has asked Rep. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, to take the lead on gun legislation in the House this session and told reporters to talk to Riddle for information on the chamber's plans for firearms bills. Riddle didn't respond to requests for an interview last week. A legislative assistant said she was busy with meetings.

Riddle is a member of the NRA and has been one of the chamber's leaders in proposing gun-friendly legislation in recent years, including the effort to lower the concealed carry age limit.

Newman, who entered the political arena as an advocate against gun violence, said she thinks the NRA has been a major force in promoting gun-friendly legislation in Missouri and nationally.

"We're not safe anywhere because of the NRA's successful campaign to tie everything to the Second Amendment," she said.

Missouri voters rejected a 1999 attempt to create a concealed carry permit, but the state Legislature undid the vote four years later -- paving the way for concealed firearms and marking a key victory for gun rights advocates.

Lawmakers successfully passed the Castle Doctrine law in 2007, allowing Missouri residents to use deadly force on intruders. The NRA hailed that year's session as "one of the most successful sessions in recent memory."

Three years later, the Legislature broadened the Castle statute to apply to any property invasion -- not just homes.

In the years since, lawmakers have promoted pro-gun legislation in several measures, including a law last year that created an NRA specialty license plate and another that established a path for people who have previously been barred from possessing guns to get their gun rights back through the courts if they can show that they "will not be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety."

The Missouri House in 2012 passed a bill that would have protected gun owners from employment discrimination, but the proposal didn't pass the Senate. Another bill debated then would have required that private companies allow their employees to keep guns in their cars. A House committee considered legislation that would have allowed guns on public transportation in St. Louis and Kansas City.

A law that outlaws extra sales taxes on firearms and ammunition passed in 2011, as did legislation allowing lawmakers and their staffers to carry guns at the Capitol if they have concealed carry credentials.

It's not known how many legislators carry guns in the Capitol. Concealed carry status in Missouri is protected under privacy measures, and it's illegal to make public lists of gun owners who have the designation. When asked, some lawmakers declined to say whether they carry firearms.

Burlison is one of several lawmakers who have hung signs on their office windows that say: "Notice: Lawfully concealed weapons are encouraged on these premises." He said he feels safer knowing that lawmakers are allowed to have guns.

"In the Capitol building, we don't have security everywhere. We don't have metal detectors or gun checks," he said.

Source: (c)2013 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Distributed by MCT Information Services

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