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Missouri's 100th session convenes

Missouri State Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, listens as he is nominated for speaker of the House on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019, in the Jefferson City Capitol before the first day of the legislature's 100th session. Photo by Christian Gooden,

JEFFERSON CITY — The speaker of the Missouri House said Wednesday he has a group of Republican lawmakers working behind the scenes to craft legislation to address gun violence in the state’s largest cities.

Rep. Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, didn’t disclose the names of his fellow Republicans, but said they are researching what other cities have done to reduce gun violence with an eye on bringing a plan to the Legislature in January.

“We would like to have some kind of legislative proposal prepared to go in January,” Haahr told reporters. “Obviously, we’ve got a bit of time before the next session starts in January.”

Potential action by state officials comes as St. Louis has seen 139 homicides in 2019 and is on pace to top last year’s total of 186. Eleven of this year’s victims were children, and two other child deaths are being investigated as “suspicious.”

While Democrats have said the state’s loose gun laws need to be tightened, that could be an uphill climb in the Republican-controlled House and Senate during an election year.

Gov. Mike Parson, who is also up for election in 2020, has met with St. Louis area leaders multiple times in recent weeks, but has cautioned that he wants to protect the 2nd Amendment rights of Missourians.

On Tuesday, the Republican governor said a crime-fighting plan will be announced in the coming weeks.

Parson supports using the Missouri Highway Patrol to begin policing interstates in the metro area in order to free up city officers for other crime-fighting efforts.

Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, is calling on Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, to form a special Senate committee to address the violence. She and Schatz are set to meet Thursday to discuss the panel.

Nasheed said the meetings would give senators the chance to hear from shooting victims and experts to inform policy proposals for the legislative session that starts in January. She said the committee must address socioeconomic factors that contribute to violence.

House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Wednesday she was unaware of any involvement by Democratic lawmakers in Haahr’s effort. She said she was happy to hear there were talks underway.

“I’m interested to see what issues they want to focus on. But as we’ve been saying for a while now, we can’t wait until January,” Quade said.

Democrats in the House had introduced a number of bills this week that would tighten state laws, but they did not advance during the special session that was underway on used vehicle sales taxes.

Among the various measures were a ban on assault weapons sales for people younger than 21 and a “red flag” law that would allow courts to temporarily confiscate firearms from people at risk of harming themselves or others.

“It’s pretty frustrating for us. We’ve gone through this week with no conversation on this matter,” Quade said.

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