JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Gun laws in Missouri are among the most lax in the country and after Monday’s deadly school shooting in St. Louis City, some are calling for stricter rules.
There’s no state law in Missouri that requires a license or a background check to buy or own a gun. Following other recent school shootings across the country, Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, is asking why the state didn’t enact legislation to help prevent tragedies like the one in her district Monday morning.
“After we noticed what was happening in other places, we should have been proactive, so we didn’t have to be reactive,” May said. “Now we’re in a reactive state.”
Police say 19-year-old Orlando Harris opened fire inside the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis Monday morning, killing a teacher and a 16-year-old female. After responding to the scene, officers then shot and killed Harris. Harris graduated from CVPA last school year and had no prior criminal history on record, police said. The school is in May’s district.
“I got in my car and I headed over to where the students were,” May said. “I talked to several people, parents, teachers and law enforcement officers and the biggest thing was the fear and that was the most heart-wrenching part because school is supposed to be the safest place that you can take your children.”
As of Monday night, officials did not know how Harris got the long gun used in the shooting. The Interim St. Louis Police Chief Lt. Col. Michael Sack said Harris had several high capacity magazines on him when he was finally subdued. Sack said local and federal investigators are working to determine a motive for the shooting and where Harris was before the shooting.
Sack only identified the victims by age, but the family of 61-year-old Jean Kuczka confirmed she was the teacher killed in the shooting.
May said it’s time for the state to pass stricter gun laws. Back in 2007, the state repealed legislation that required background checks when purchasing handguns. Then in 2016, the General Assembly reversed another law allowing open carry, meaning permits aren’t needed. Missouri also doesn’t have a minimum age requirement for buying a firearm.
“We need to reinstate having a permit for a gun, at least we know who has the gun,” May said. “You have to have a license to drive a car, why don’t you have to have a license to possess a firearm.”
Missourians at any age can open carry, but under federal law, a person must be 21 to purchase a handgun and 18 to buy a rifle. Under the federal Youth Handgun Safety Act, anyone under 18 is prohibited from owning a handgun except in limited circumstances. Local government can limit where those firearms are allowed. The state also doesn’t require background checks, but if a gun is purchased at a licensed dealer, federal laws kick in and require one.
“It was only a matter of time until something like this happened here,” May said. “To see the violence that is happening everywhere and to act like it wasn’t going to come home, I don’t know what to say about that.”
In a statement Monday afternoon, Gov. Mike Parson said:
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families of this morning’s shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis. Our office has been briefed on this tragedy. State public safety officials are coordinating with local law enforcement and have offered any state resources necessary to assist with the investigation. St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department quickly arrived on scene and immediately went to the sound of gunfire to protect lives, secure the area, and eliminate the threat. Teresa and I are praying for the victims, their families, the entire community.”
Republican Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley tweeted two hours after police responded to the shooting saying, “Devastating news in St. Louis. I’m grateful for the swift response of law enforcement. My office is in contact with local authorities, and we stand ready to offer all assistance possible.”
In Missouri, minors can own handguns and long guns but under federal law, a person must be 18 or older to possess a handgun and be 21 to buy one.
After lawmakers repealed legislation back in 2016, anyone 19 and older can carry a concealed weapon without a permit and no training is required. If Missourians want, they can still apply for a concealed-carry permit which requires a firearms training course and a background check.
May said she wants Missouri to require background checks, concealed carry permits and to ban assault-style weapons.
“I’m angry about it because reasonable gun laws are not a threat to your Second Amendment Right,” May said. “We should have been dealing with this way before it happened. For it to happen somewhere else was a wake-up call to say listen, we really need to change the gun laws in Missouri.”
Last year, the governor signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) into law, which bars police officers from enforcing federal gun laws. If they do, they could be fined up to $50,000. Dozens of agencies, including more than 60 police chiefs, spoke out in opposition to the law, saying it interferes with federal partners and the use of national databases and resources.
Other Democratic St. Louis lawmakers released statements Monday afternoon saying:
“My heart is with Jean Kuczka and the young student who were lost this morning, those wounded and the students and teachers, their families, their friends and all of St. Louis after today’s tragedy at Central Visual and Performing Arts,” Sen. Steven Roberts said. “A terrible act of violence and hate like this one creates waves of trauma within our community. My office is sending out resources provided to us by the Department of Mental Health to constituents and working diligently to get more information to share when it’s available.”
Rep. LaKeySha Bosley shared her thoughts about the tragedy.
“The City of St. Louis has suffered innumerable tragedies carried out with firearms, but the attack on the children of our community today has chilled me to the bone,” she said. “No one should have to tolerate the trauma that students and educators faced today. I want to thank first responders for acting quickly and decisively to prevent further loss of life, and I also want to thank the educators, administrators and staff at Central VPA who worked to safeguard students. The legislature has work to do when we reconvene in January. First, we need to offer mental health resources to those who have been affected by today’s events. But then we need to act to prevent such tragedies from occurring again, and ultimately, we must pass laws that protect our children and our communities. As legislators, we have a responsibility to stop perpetuating the policies that enable violent offenders to have unfettered access to firearms and ammunition. In my last three years in Jefferson City, I have repeatedly offered legislation that would require vendors to obtain a license to sell ammunition, and it has never received a hearing. Common sense reform like this proposal — along with dozens of other gun safety bills filed and ignored every year — would see our state acting to protect people from the gun violence we have witnessed today.”
Democratic U.S. Congresswoman Cori Bush from St. Louis also released a statement thanking first responders, teachers and staff for responding quickly to the situation.
“Today is a day that every parent, teacher, student, and community member prays never comes,” Bush said. “St. Louis has become the latest city and school district to endure our country’s horrific trend of gun violence in our schools. Heartbreak doesn’t even begin to capture the pain that I feel for my community right now. I would like to thank the first responders, teachers, and staff who responded swiftly to the situation, and who helped get others to safety. Their bravery today saved lives.
In all that is unclear, one thing remains certain: gun violence, especially in our schools, is a public health emergency that needs to end. The tragedy at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School marks the 40th school shooting this year. 2022 was already the year on record with the highest number of school shootings occurring in a single year. This is unconscionable and inexcusable. The epidemic of gun violence and the ensuing trauma it leaves in its wake needs to stop. As we work to gather all the details leading up to this tragedy, I want St. Louis to know that my office is here to help our community through this difficult time. You can call my office at (314) 955-9980 to be directed to resources. I will also be hosting an in-person town hall this Thursday where we will address the urgent crisis of school safety. I encourage community members across Missouri’s First to attend as we seek to process all that our community is ensuring and think about where we go from here.”
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Republican U.S. Congresswoman from St. Louis Ann Wagner said on Twitter, “Just devastated about the senseless loss of life at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in the City of St. Louis. I’m grateful for the swift response of our law enforcement.”
Both U.S. Senate candidates also responded to the incident.
Democratic nominee Trudy Busch Valentine said:
“I am deeply saddened and heartbroken by this senseless act of violence. As a mother of six, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sent my kids off to school, as hundreds of families across St. Louis did today, thinking it was just going to be another ordinary day. There are questions about how this happened that will need to be answered. And there are people who are hurting and grieving that will need all of our support and love. I want to extend my deepest gratitude to our local law enforcement agencies and school officials for their quick action and response in the face of such dangerous circumstances. I know these are the situations you proudly train and prepare for, but pray you never have to experience. I thank you for your dedication, commitment, and bravery. But I want to be clear. Extending thoughts and prayers is not enough to address the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in our country. Shootings are still a daily occurrence in far too many communities – even if they don’t make the evening news. No child or person should have to be afraid of getting shot or killed in schools, places of worship, grocery stores, movie theaters, or anywhere else. We all deserve safe neighborhoods. I am committed to doing everything I can in the United States Senate to pass common-sense gun safety measures that a majority of Missourians support, including universal background checks, red flag laws, expanding access to mental health treatment, and getting military-style assault weapons out of the wrong hands”
Republican nominee, Attorney General Eric Schmitt, said on Twitter: “Our hearts are with the students at the Central Visual and Performing Arts School and their families as they seek to heal from this senseless tragedy, and we commend the brave men and women of law enforcement for their quick and decisive action.”