JEFFERSON CITY — A top Republican in the Missouri Legislature cast doubt Monday on whether state lawmakers will take up any legislation addressing the gun violence that has claimed the lives of at least 13 children in the city of St. Louis this year.
A day after a weekend that saw a 15-year-old boy and an 8-year-old girl added to the toll, Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz told the Post-Dispatch he’s open to any solution that might address the problem.
But the Franklin County Republican said he hasn’t heard of any potential fixes that would gain traction in the gun-friendly GOP-controlled Senate and House.
“Obviously, anytime we see a rise in this kind of violence it is a problem,” Schatz said. “But I don’t know if anything is on the horizon. I don’t know if anyone has the answer.”
Lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol on Sept. 11 for their annual veto session. In addition, Gov. Mike Parson has scheduled a special session to run at the same time dealing with a tax issue affecting car buyers.
Democratic leaders have called for Parson to schedule action on gun violence, but the Republican has not signaled that will happen.
On Saturday, members of the Legislature’s Black Caucus sent a letter to Parson, a Republican, asking that he add consideration of a law to allow municipalities with high incidents of gun violence to pass their own gun control legislation.
“We took this action in the wake of tragic deaths of over a dozen children this year. We consider this an emergency that demands the attention of the entire General Assembly and the Governor. Action must be taken to stem this rise in gun violence in our cities and to help local law enforcement protect our children,” said state Rep. Steve Roberts, a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the caucus.
Rep. Lakeysha Bosley, D-St. Louis, added that gun violence is the No. 1 issue in St. Louis and Kansas City.
“We are taking one devastating blow after another, child after child. We can surely intervene and allow local municipal government to make the right decisions; that will protect lives,” Bosley said.
Schatz said he’s unaware of support among the GOP for allowing cities to approve gun laws that differ from the rest of the state, pointing to Chicago as an example of where tougher firearms restrictions haven’t translated into an end to violence.
“I think we need to look deeper at the societal issues that are playing a role in the violence,” Schatz said. “I don’t want to look at passing any measures that will make people feel good, but won’t be effective.”
Parson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the call for a special session. Nor did House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.
The call for a clampdown on Missouri gun laws came two years after the GOP-led Legislature approved a law that removes licensing requirements on carrying or using a gun around people.
The law taking effect on Jan. 1, 2017 allows gun owners to carry a concealed weapon without a state-issued permit.
The law allows anyone 19 or older to legally carry a concealed weapon with no training and no concealed-carry permit.
The issue came to the fore earlier this month when a 20-year-old man caused a panic by walking into a Springfield Walmart with an assault-style rifle. He was charged with making terroristic threats, but prosecutors have not charged him with any gun crime.
Parson voted for the law loosening licensing requirements as a state senator from Bolivar during the 2016 legislative session. In the Missouri House, he co-sponsored a Missouri’s “Castle Doctrine,” which allows individuals to use deadly force in defense of their own homes.
Parson, after taking office last year, spoke about St. Louis-area crime during a meeting in Jefferson City with St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson and then-County Executive Steve Stenger.
Parson said he wanted to work with the duo to address crime issues.
“I’m going to talk about the crime issue across the state and how important that is for all Missourians. It’s not in isolated areas. It’s all of our problem,” Parson said at the time. “My plan is to be able to give them the tools they need to get the job done.”
Earlier this month, speaking to reporters, Parson said “background checks are fine,” though he has yet to propose any legislation addressing background checks.
Parson also said he supported more law enforcement officers, more mental health resources, and “when people are on social media today, some of the things they’re putting out — yeah I think that should be flagged sometimes. If you’re threatening to kill somebody, somebody ought to know you’re doing it.”
Rep. Deb Lavender, D-Kirkwood, seized on those comments, saying she was “looking forward” to Parson supporting her “red flag” legislation, which would allow courts to confiscate firearms from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Parson’s office said he was speaking in reference to flagging social media posts, not individual gun owners.
“If the governor is interested in making differences in Missouri, red flag legislation has been proven effective in other states across the country that have passed it,” Lavender said. “It is a tool that our state can have to help prevent tragic events with guns.”
Sentonio Cox, his body found in the 7300 block of Vermont Avenue, is the latest of at least 13 children killed by gunfire in St. Louis this year.
Coverage of children who died in the St. Louis area in 2019
These are the local incidents of homicide or neglect involving children, based on Post-Dispatch reporting. This list doesn't include children killed in car accidents (unless a criminal charge was filed) or incidents not being investigated by homicide detectives.
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