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Armed passengers? New push underway in Missouri to allow concealed carry on public transportation

Armed passengers? New push underway in Missouri to allow concealed carry on public transportation

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Sheriff's deputies set to ride MetroLink trains

St. Louis Sheriff’s Department staff members exit a MetroLink train alongside Bi-State Development CEO Taulby Roach, right, during a media event on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020 to announce that deputies will soon be riding the trains. (Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com)

JEFFERSON CITY — Concealed-carry permit holders would be able to legally board MetroLink trains and buses with their firearms if a proposal Missouri lawmakers are weighing becomes law.

The Senate General Laws Committee heard legislation Tuesday by Sen. Bob Onder, R-Lake Saint Louis, that would allow guns on trains and buses amid continued security concerns regarding the region’s mass transit systems. The measure wouldn’t apply to Amtrak.

The hearing this week followed the fatal shooting of security guard James Cook on Jan. 31 at the Delmar MetroLink station. Eight days later, the Bi-State Development Agency, which oversees MetroLink, voted 7-2 against rearming security guards.

Opponents of rearming guards said the matter required more discussion; members disputed whether it was legal for guards to carry guns. Officials took steps to improve security last year, including increasing police presence on the trains.

GOP lawmakers have made similar efforts to allow the public to carry concealed weapons on public transit for years, to no avail.

Democrats have mostly opposed the measures, but state Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, said Friday he would consider supporting the bill as written — if GOP proponents maintain limiting who could carry guns to concealed-carry permit holders.

The Legislature in 2016 did away with concealed-carry requirements, and though concealed-carry certifications still exist, they are not required in order to legally carry a gun in public, a law known as “constitutional carry.”

“I think that’s more reasonable than him (Onder) just doing the broad constitutional carry,” Roberts said. “At least this way we’re having some vetting.”

Roberts said he supports concealed-carry as long as there is vetting, and he filed legislation in the House last year for St. Louis to be able to require the permits.

Two other Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate vowed to oppose allowing guns on public transit.

Sen. Brian Williams, D-University City, said civilians shouldn’t be carrying firearms on MetroLink.

“The more guns that we put on the street, especially on public transportation, it’s only going to create more deaths,” Williams said. “I’m a strong ‘no.’”

He said that because riders are in close proximity on mass transit, a bullet “could easily hit a bystander.”

He said arming security guards is “something we would have to look at and really discuss with Bi-State.”

“I don’t think it’s OK for a security officer to lose their life,” he said, but “I am not in favor of civilians carrying firearms on public transportation.”

Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, sits on the General Laws Committee, in which Onder’s proposal is awaiting a vote to advance to the Senate floor.

Razer said the debate “seemed like a St. Louis issue” and that “I haven’t heard anybody in Kansas City clamoring to take guns on buses or the streetcar.

“I’m going to vote against it,” he said. “I don’t think my constituents want it. It doesn’t make sense. Why are we going to add more guns to our public transit?”

The city of Kansas City, the Missouri Public Transit Association, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority and Greater St. Louis Inc., an organization comprised of St. Louis civic and business leaders, were among those testifying against Onder’s bill.

The DC Project-Women for Gun Rights, and Arnie C. “AC” Dienoff, a St. Charles County political activist, testified in favor.

Rep. Adam Schnelting, R-St. Charles, is pushing a similar proposal in the House. The House General Laws Committee approved the measure 10-2 on Monday, and the measure could be debated on the House floor in the coming days or weeks.

Both Schnelting and Onder’s bills also would allow people without concealed-carry permits to board buses with firearms that are in a “non-functioning” state, according to summaries of the bills.

“At some point in time in our lives, each of us will have the opportunity — the unfortunate opportunity — of having to employ self defense,” Schnelting told the General Laws Committee this month. “This legislation simply ensures that right.

“I believe the measure is needed in order to discourage criminal activity on our public transportation system thereby enhancing public safety,” he said.

The legislation is House Bill 52 and Senate Bill 225.

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