Throughout 2023, Missourians witnessed a number of tragic instances of gun violence that led many to question what Missouri gun laws are actually in place to prevent mounting gun deaths in the state.
The answer? Not many. Missouri has some of the loosest gun laws in the nation, and it has preemption laws in place that prevent cities from being forced to take action against gun violence.
And while acts of violence were taking place across the state, lawmakers in Jefferson City spent the 2023 legislative session debating numerous bills that would do things like allow carrying concealed weapons on public transportation and in places of worship, eliminate taxes on the sale of firearms and ammunition and allow nonviolent felons to have their gun rights restored.
Among the numerous bills considered this session seeking both to expand and limit access to guns in Missouri, only one bill associated with guns passed. SB 189, dubbed Blair’s Law, will increase the penalty for celebratory gunfire in Missouri. Lawmakers have considered different versions of the bill for 12 years, and this session, the bill passed with bipartisan support before the session ended on May 12. It now awaits Gov. Mike Parson’s signature.
The measure was considered a win among groups looking to reduce the accessibility of guns in Missouri, like Moms Demand Action and Grandparents for Gun Sense. But in a capitol building where a Republican supermajority is able to sign off on legislation without bipartisan support, the bigger success for gun control advocates was the bills expanding access to guns that did not pass.
What gun bills failed in 2023?
HB 282, the bill that would allow carrying concealed weapons on public transportation and in places of worship, has been considered by the Missouri General Assembly for years. This spring, it was only one vote away from passing on the Senate floor. Moms Demand Action volunteers take some credit for stopping it.
“This is our top-line agenda every year, from all of the years since I started volunteering in 2015, that we’ve been tracking and opposing,” said Kristin Bowen, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action’s Missouri chapter. “HB 282 was sort of the top-line priority and that did fail to make it across the finish line, which is really important.”
Bowen added: “We’ve seen for over a decade our legislature has been embracing this ‘guns everywhere’ agenda and giving these bills hearings, and these lawmakers have proven that they’re willing to entertain these measures that only would serve to put our families more at risk and our communities more in danger. We have to show up to oppose all of those things.”
Legislative advocates in the group Grandparents for Gun Sense, which advocates for public safety reform and improving gun safety, said they plan to spend the summer talking with lawmakers about “baby steps” that can be taken to improve outcomes in Missouri.
For example, according to volunteer Dave Webster, while lawmakers were debating tax cuts for guns and ammunition, Grandparents for Gun Sense pushed to include safe storage measures in the bill.
“It should be harder for people to own a gun, have a gun, use a gun, same with the ammunition,” Webster said. “It is not impossible to be a responsible gun owner. But it takes the will to do it.”
Where does the conversation around Missouri’s gun laws go from here?
Advocates anticipate continued conversation around both strengthening and loosening Missouri’s gun laws. Bills like HB 282, for instance, are almost certain to be introduced again next year.
But in many instances, until the legislature is willing to engage in conversations surrounding gun violence and safety in Missouri, there isn’t much municipalities and advocates can do.
Bowen pointed to discussions about a state takeover of the St. Louis Police Department, which Republican members of the General Assembly said would help reduce crime. But lawmakers allowed the bill to appoint a state board to run the department to die after St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who was subject to scrutiny from lawmakers in Jefferson City since she took office, resigned with the agreement that the bill wouldn’t progress.
“There’s a lot of political rhetoric about ‘Why don’t these cities do a better job?’” Bowen said. “They literally are begging to be able to take guns out of the hands of teenagers in the city of St. Louis.”
Republicans within the legislature have made clear that they plan to bring up the St. Louis policing bill again in the future. But Bowen thinks some of the tragedy Missouri has seen over the last year could bring changing tides.
“I also think the other sort of inflection point was the shooting of Ralph Yarl in Kansas City. There were efforts to expand ‘stand your ground’ in our state that were being considered that did not go forward for a hearing,” Bowen said of a law that allows a person to use deadly force in private or public if they think their life is at risk. “I think that people seeing the racist impact of these kinds of laws made it really hard to look away. That shooting is just tragic and appalling.”
One bill introduced this year received a hearing just before the end of the session, but Bowen considers that a win too. The bill would aim to close the domestic violence loophole that allows convicted domestic abusers to have access to guns in Missouri. A Republican introduced the bill, and other members have said they’d be willing to work on it in the future.
“One lawmaker took us aside, as the hearing ended, and explained to us that sometimes these kinds of bills take several years. It might take two or three years. But this Republican said, ‘We think this bill is worth working on.’ So that gives me hope. If a Republican lawmaker is willing to say to Moms Demand Action volunteers, ‘Keep going. This may take a while.’ But there is a recognition that something needs to be done,” she said.