Missouri legislators are taking opposing stances on preventing future mass shootings.
A Republican lawmaker has proposed a bill that would eliminate gun-free zones, which include college campuses. A Democrat has proposed legislation that would eliminate permitless concealed carry.
In a packed hearing on Monday, the General Laws Committee heard eight different bills that addressed firearms, almost two weeks after a fatal school shooting in Florida.
Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Nixa, is proposing that those with a concealed carry permit could enter current "gun-free zones." Gun-free zones are places where the use and possession of firearms are prohibited and include hospitals, churches, child care centers and schools. The bill is similar to one he proposed last year.
Taylor said his proposal would help protect students in schools, citing research which said that 98 percent of public mass shootings occurred in gun-free zones.
"I could point to numerous examples where an individual could have stopped a mass shooting in these gun-free zones," he said. "This bill allows individuals to stop an attack if the need were to arise."
With or without a permit, one would be able to carry a concealed firearm in the following places: polling places, local government buildings, state government buildings, bars, childcare facilities, riverboat gambling operations, gated communities, amusement parks, churches, public sports stadiums and hospitals. One would need a permit, however, to carry a weapon onto a higher education campus or the state Capitol.
Regarding any of those locations that are private property, it would ultimately be up to the owners to decide if they will allow firearms.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, took some issue with removing bars, particularly whose owners forbid guns on their property, as a type of gun-free zone.
"A bar owner isn’t going to know that there’s somebody with a concealed carry, because it’s concealed,” he said. "It’s not until that bar fight turns deadly that the bar owner is going to find out."
Allowing concealed firearms within college campuses proved to be controversial as well. Supporters said it would let people decide how to protect themselves, and not the government.
Alyce Turner, a Columbia resident and former teacher in Cooper County, is against allowing teachers and students to carry firearms on campuses.
"I am a former teacher, I have two teaching certifications, I’ve taught in schools, and I can’t imagine carrying a gun," said Turner, who attended the hearing but did not testify.
Turner was near the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School when the shooting happened and knows a junior from another high school in the area who had seven friends that were killed in the shooting.
"She was just traumatized," Turner said. "She didn’t go to school for days. She was terrified of going to school."
Turner said that if students started carrying at MU, she would probably move out of Columbia because she wouldn’t feel safe.
She isn’t the only one that is worried about the safety of carrying guns in schools. She said she talked to a student at MU who was studying education, but was now rethinking her career choice because she wouldn’t feel safe teaching at schools if they’re not a gun-free zone.
At the hearing, however, there was plenty of testimony in support of Taylor’s bill.
"I want our citizens to be the first line of defense," Austin Petersen, a candidate for U.S. Senate from Kansas City, said, referring to how an officer did nothing for four minutes while the Parkland shooting happened. "I think that an armed society is a polite society."ac
Connor Martin, a 17-year-old high school student from Troy, agreed, saying he knows dozens of students who want more people armed at school.
"We have a school resource officer at my school, but if he were harmed in any way," they would be helpless, he said.
Opponents of on-campus concealed carry weapons said college students aren’t mature or developed enough to handle guns. They worry that suicide would be more common as well and said more guns don't mean more safety.
"I do not feel comfortable with this normalization of guns on campus, especially in high schools," said Damen Alexander, 17, a high school senior from St. Louis. He proposed investing in schools' infrastructure and social programs as a safer alternative.
Taylor said that allowing concealed carry on campuses could help women protect themselves from rape.
"When women are raped on college campus or elsewhere, and they are able to use a weapon to protect themselves, they are raped less than 1 percent of the time," he said. He did not cite a source for that statistic.
Merideth did not necessarily agree that allowing guns on campus would help women, but could instead have adverse effects.
Rep. Jon Carpenter, D-Kansas City, criticized Taylor for his bill.
"In light of the recent events, I think it goes radically against what the people of Missouri want," he said. "They want us to be coming up with sensible gun solutions, but yours goes so radically in the opposite direction."
Merideth has proposed legislation aimed at permitless concealed carry.
Merideth’s bill, House Bill 1733, would reverse Senate Bill 656, which was passed in 2016. The Senate Bill allowed for permitless concealed carry in Missouri and created an enhanced definition of "Stand your Ground."
"It is my view, and the view of many of my constituents, that these changes were a mistake for our state that took us away from sensible gun regulations and toward a place where more and more guns are on the street," Merideth said.
Merideth cited the rise in armed crime. In the city of St. Louis, he said there was a 23 percent increase in aggravated assaults with a firearm from 2016 to 2017, while other violent crime went down in the city. Meredith acknowledged that there are many factors to why the violent crime rate when up but asserted that he believed this to be one of the reasons.
St. Louis resident Damien Johnson disagrees. "St. Louis city is a dangerous place," Johnson said. "There is a reason, today, why people would want to use something, whether a gun or pepper spray, to defend themselves."
Merideth is also concerned about the enhanced Stand your Ground law, which allowed people to use their guns to defend themself in a public place instead of retreating when it was possible. He said it makes some situations harder to prosecute.
Meredith said he would be willing to amend his bill with another that has been proposed. If amended, his bill wouldn’t repeal permitless concealed carry, but would instead allow counties and municipalities within the state to decide if they want to allow it.
"Communities that don’t have a problem with folks carrying a gun around without a permit can allow their folks to do that," Merideth said. "But that they might not be able to come into my community, where we do have a problem with that, and other communities where residents say they have a problem with that."
Taylor supports "Stand your Ground." He said he should be able to defend himself regardless and not have to walk away from a fight.
Merideth, however, said that his proposal "would not make it so you can no longer defend yourself."
Other bills heard by the committee proposed tax deductions for people with concealed carry permits, making electronic tracking of firearms illegal and requiring background checks when selling guns online.
The General Laws committee will be voting on the bills at 5 p.m. Tuesday or upon adjournment of the House, said Rep. Robert Cornejo, R-St. Peters, who chairs the committee.
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