‘This is life and death’: Kansas City mayor says state should let city act on gun laws

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On Friday, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas noted that for six years Missouri cities have been prevented from enacting their own gun control measures, something he said hamstrings him in addressing the shootings and killings that plague the city.

The comment came days after a particularly violent weekend in Kansas City made national news, and hours before two teenagers were shot and killed leaving a Ramadan service later that night.

Lucas said he would like to be able to promote city ordinances to stop easy access to illegal firearms that flood the streets. But he can’t, because the Missouri General Assembly in 2014 preempted cities from making their own gun laws.

And at the statehouse, advocates for stricter gun laws have hit a wall for years before a Republican-dominated legislature that has pushed instead to loosen gun restrictions.

“Let us find a way to try to save the babies who are dying on our streets, each and every day,” Lucas said. Kansas City had recorded 53 homicides as of Friday, after setting a record of 182 in 2020, according to data maintained by The Star.

“This isn’t politics, this is life and death,” Lucas said. “And the fact that I’m one Black man of many Black people who personally know victims of homicide in recent years, it shouldn’t be like that. It’s going to continue to be like that till we’re allowed to actually self-determine how we want to be safe in this community.”

But at the state level, firearms restrictions of any kind — even penalties for celebratory gunfire and restricted access to guns for domestic violence offenders — have not passed easily. Some have made progress only when attached to bills loosening other gun restrictions.

Democrats and gun safety activists who have worked for years on other gun safety measures said they have little hope of success.

For years, Democratic lawmakers have introduced some combination of bills to ban high-capacity magazines or require background checks or waiting periods before a gun purchase. Other legislation would let families or police ask judges to temporarily take guns away from people who demonstrate “extreme risks” to themselves or others — known commonly as a “red flag” law.

For at least the past five years, the bills have gone nowhere.

In February 2018, in the wake of the Parkland school shooting in Florida, the House held hearings on bills to prohibit the sale or transfer of ammunition to minors and to tighten restrictions on the state’s broad allowance of concealed-carry. They were voted down in committee a day later.

That was farther than most gun control measures get in the legislature. Typically, the proposals sit in a committee without a hearing, if they make it to a committee before the session ends.

‘We have different needs’

Rep. Trish Gunby, a Ballwin Democrat, filed a bill this year that would give a tax credit to encourage the purchase of gun safes. With two weeks left in the legislative session, it had not been assigned to a committee.

The state legislature’s solution to increased gun violence, Gunby said, has been, “’Then we need more guns and more access to guns.’ That’s been the answer thus far.”

Other measures to require gun owners to report stolen weapons, require state licensing of dealers and create a committee to address gun violence have similarly gone nowhere.

A bill long sought by Kansas City officials to hike up penalties for randomly firing a weapon — named Blair’s Law after a child killed by a falling bullet a decade ago — passed the House this year. It was attached to legislation that also allows concealed carry into churches and onto public transit, lowers the age for a concealed carry permit from 19 to 18 and declares gun shops essential businesses during emergency orders.

Last month, Lucas was expected to testify against the legislation allowing guns on public transit, but he left Jefferson City before the hearing. A lobbyist took his place.

Lucas said he generally doesn’t comment on the legislature’s gun regulation and gun law proposals, but he has supported bills this session enhancing restrictions for domestic violence offenders and stiffening penalties for illegal gun trafficking.

One sponsor of Blair’s Law, Kansas City Democrat Mark Sharp, wrote in an April newsletter that combining the bill with the other measures was its best chance of passage because the original proposal was stuck in a committee.

“Other amendments were added to the bill that I did not support, but with the inclusion of Blair’s Law I think the amended version will do more to enhance public safety than to harm it,” Sharp wrote.

“There hasn’t really been any discussion” on gun violence, said Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Kansas City Democrat. “Because they refuse to see our point. They want it to be blanket for the state of Missouri … but we have different needs because we live in different environments.”

A bill filed by Kansas City Democrat Richard Brown to repeal the state’s prohibition on cities passing their own gun control measures has not been assigned to a committee.

One bill activists hope passes this year would prohibit those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors, and those under domestic violence restraining orders, from having guns. It passed out of one House committee and awaits a vote in another — the farthest it’s gotten in the past five years.

A much more popular proposal that Republicans have pushed for nearly a decade would bar Missouri police from enforcing federal gun laws.

That bill, known as the Second Amendment Preservation Act, would declare federal gun laws and regulations “invalid” Missouri, including those that require fees, registration or tracking of guns, or laws prohibiting certain people from possessing a gun.

The bill also restrict local police from assisting federal agents enforcing those laws, and allow those who believe their Second Amendment rights have been violated to sue local law enforcement for $50,000. It passed the House early this year.

Urban and rural

“They live in a bubble,” Sen. Barbara Washington, a Kansas City Democrat, said of Republicans in the legislature. “They clearly don’t see the danger.”

Washington said she fully believes in the Second Amendment. She is of the first generation in her mother’s and father’s families to be raised in the city. Hunting is still part of their lives.

But, she said, where she lives in the city she hears gunshots three or four times a week. She does not let her grandchildren play on the first level of her home for fear of gunfire.

Gun violence is a public health problem and should be treated that way, she said. Job training and resources could help.

And it is not just an urban problem, Washington said. Missouri has high rates firearm suicides across rural areas.

“I feel like some kind of way we’ve got to decide we’re going to come to a happy medium” on the issue, she said.

Sen. Eric Burlison, a Battlefield Republican, who has introduced his own version of the federal gun law nullification bill, said the two sides were unlikely to ever see eye to eye. He said Missouri’s high rate of gun deaths was “not in any way” connected to the state’s loosening of gun restrictions.

“We could pass any law we want to and it’s not going to pick up an additional gun in St. Louis or Kansas City,” he said. “If a criminal wants a violent weapon they’re going to obtain a violent weapon.

“One side ultimately believes the blame has to rest with the device,” he said. “The other side ultimately believes the device is useful and the blame rests with the individual.”

Karen Rogers, the Missouri chapter leader for Moms Demand Action, said the advocacy group’s strategy is to play defense on legislation that would further loosen Missouri’s gun laws.

The group opted to not show up physically at the statehouse this session because of the pandemic, Rogers said, but they did host a virtual advocacy day in March and have driven hundreds of calls to lawmakers and submitted written testimonies.

“We continue to try and elevate the voices of gun violence survivors to our lawmakers so that they understand that there is a real cost to the decisions they are making on the lives of Missourians,” Rogers said. “It’s so easy to excuse away gun violence in our cities as somebody else’s problem, but it’s all of our problem.”

For the federal nullification bill, Rogers said, there were 215 submissions of written testimony.

Seven were in favor of the bill and the rest were against, many of which came from volunteers with Moms Demand Action.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect figure for the number of homicides in Kansas City in 2020. The city recorded 182 that year, according to data maintained by The Star.

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