JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) While President Barack Obama seeks greater gun controls, Missouri Republican lawmakers are looking to undo his work at the state level and instead expand run rights.
Guns have been at the forefront of the national debate after deadly mass shootings in Colorado and Connecticut. While Obama wants to place more restrictions on ammunition and ban assault rifles, Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature is looking to nullify federal gun control laws and allow more people to carry concealed weapons.
The resistance and skepticism on gun control is part of Missouri’s political culture and highlights how the state now is more conservative on social issues than the nation as a whole, political experts say.
“Missouri will not be too receptive toward any policies that might be viewed as significantly cracking down on individuals’ Second Amendment rights,” said Rick Althaus, a political science professor at Southeast Missouri State University.
It was not always this way. In 1999, Missouri voters rejected a ballot measure that would have allowed people to carry concealed weapons at age 21. But in 2003, Republicans having just won control of the Legislature for the first time in decades teamed up with some rural Democrats to enact a law allowing concealed weapons for people age 23 and older.
“Republicans had a very different philosophy about guns and gun control” than Democrats who had dominated the Legislature for the previous half-century, said David Valentine, a public affairs professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
Missouri law currently allows concealed guns to be carried by people age 21 and older who have no felony convictions, are not mentally incompetent and pass a firearms training course and background check.
Measures introduced by Republicans this year would chip away at those restrictions. One bill would allow people age 19 or older to carry a concealed weapon.
State law also prohibits concealed guns from being brought into schools unless approved by the local school board or a school official. But a bill introduced by Rep. Mike Kelley, R-Lamar, would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons into school regardless of a local board’s decision. Michigan GOP Gov. Rick Snyder vetoed similar legislation last month that would have allowed concealed weapons in churches, schools and day-care centers.
Other Missouri Republican proposals would go further and criminalize the enforcement of any federal law enacted after Jan. 1 that restricts gun ownership.
One of the sponsors of that measure, Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said he is responding to the president’s attempt to “limit the rights of law-abiding citizens to bear arms.”
Such proposals, while prevalent, may not gain the attention of legislative leaders. The Senate’ top Republican said gun measures aren’t his first priority.
“Certainly there is a lot of discussion about gun ownership and gun violence, and that is happening at the national level,” said President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, of St. Charles. But “the laws we pass at the state level obviously only go to the extent of our borders.”
Some Democrats, primarily from rural parts of the state, also have been skeptical about cracking down on weapons. In 2003, 29 Democrats joined the Republican majority to override Democratic Gov. Bob Holden’s veto of the concealed guns legislation.
Some urban Democrats have sponsored gun control legislation but are not going as far as Obama’s proposals. Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, is sponsoring legislation that would make a crime of negligently storing a firearm and require a parent to disclose to their child’s school if they own a gun. But she’s quick to say her measure isn’t aimed at taking way anyone’s guns.
“I fully believe in the Second Amendment and that everyone should have the right to bear arms,” she said.
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