JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Following the Texas tragedy, many are again asking about gun laws in their home state. Currently, in the state of Missouri, regulations are lax.
Back in 2007, the state repealed legislation that required background checks when purchasing handguns.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.
“It’s every parent’s nightmare,” said Sen. Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence). “It’s what keeps parents like myself up at night.”
An unbearable sight in Texas led to a discussion about gun laws nationwide.
“It’s just a shame that those things occur to that kind of multitude,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “Thank goodness we haven’t had that problem here in this state and we’re going to continue to do everything we can to build up our security across the state.”
The mass shooting at a Texas elementary school took the lives of 19 children and two teachers. The gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, is a member of the Uvalde community.
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.
“The big thing that really rolled back all the protections that we had with our gun laws in the state of Missouri was the open carry,” Rizzo said. “We have more hoops to jump through to own a car than we do to own guns in this state and that’s a problem.”
Parson said to prevent tragedies like the one in Texas, judges, and prosecutors need to be part of the solution.
“We have to do our part to take them off the streets and we have to keep them locked up,” Parson said. “These violent criminals and quit letting them go back through a revolving door and letting them out.”
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After lawmakers repealed legislation back in 2016, anyone 19 and older can carry a concealed weapon without a permit and no training is required.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.
Republican U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley said Wednesday it’s about communication between law enforcement.
“What one branch of law enforcement, the FBI for instance, might know, local law enforcement doesn’t know,” Hawley said. “The perpetrator or the shooter often post things on social media, there’s often a bit of a trail, but it’s really hard for local law enforcement to see that unless somebody’s already monitoring it.”
When it comes to selling firearms in Missouri, there are no regulations for gun dealers 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.
“It’s not only moving in the right direction, but it’s also moving in the wrong direction,” Rizzo said about SAPA. “I don’t know how many kids have to die before the Republican majority will actually sit down and look at what we can do to protect our children.”
Parson and Hawley agreed that law enforcement needs more support.
“Our job as law enforcement is to protect those kids, so everybody has got to step their game up and I don’t care who you are, whether you’re a law enforcement officer, whether you’re a prosecutor, whether you’re a judge, you’ve got to do better,” Parson said.
“I would like to see us get tougher at the federal level and send a message that if you commit these crimes and you do it with a firearm, you’re going to do serious time, including spending your life in prison or getting the death penalty,” Hawley said.
Rizzo said Missouri needs to pass legislation that requires background checks to make sure firearms are in the hands of the right people.
“This idea that a background check is going to equal taking your guns away is an absurd idea, we can do both things,” Rizzo said. “You can responsibly own a gun as well as make sure they are not in the wrong hands.”
Ramos legally bought two AR-style rifles soon after his 18th birthday, just days before he barricaded himself in a classroom and started shooting at students and teachers.