JEFFERSON CITY • If a proposal at the Missouri Capitol gains traction, St. Louis public transportation riders could be allowed to bring guns with them.
State lawmakers are reviewing legislation that would block cities such as St. Louis and Kansas City from using local restrictions to ban concealed handguns on city buses and trains.
The House General Laws Committee did not vote on the bill after a hearing last week, but the committee is scheduled to meet today and could take up the legislation.
The arguments surrounding the proposal have been similar to others on the expansion of gun rights in Missouri in recent years.
Those who support the change say it will create a safer environment on public transit because criminals will be less likely to strike. If they do, riders with concealed weapons would be able to defend themselves and other riders, advocates say.
Opponents say regular riders will forgo the buses and trains because they won't feel safe knowing firearms could be on board.
"I know this an emotional issue for people," said Rep. Ed Schieffer, a Democrat from Troy who is sponsoring the legislation. "This is about making people feel safer about riding."
St. Louis Metro officials contend that crime is not a widespread problem on the city's public buses and trains. The system, which spends more than $10 million a year on safety measures, was one of 17 to earn the Transportation Security Administration's "Gold Standard" for its commitment to security and passenger safety this year.
According to Metro, the system had 16 assaults and three robberies in Missouri in 2010, the most recent year in which statistics were available. People board Metro trains and buses some 40 million times each year.
Schieffer said he brought the bill forward after gun owners contacted him.
"They feel it's very incumbent upon their safety and their Second Amendment rights," he said.
Steve Marx, who owns Marx Hardware in Old North St. Louis, testified in favor of the bill at last week's hearing. Marx said he would like to ride public transportation from his home to work but he worries about his safety. He rarely goes anywhere without his gun since he was assaulted on the street near his home two years ago, he said.
"If I choose to wait for public transit on the street, I'm vulnerable — very vulnerable," he said. "This is why I feel so strongly about this issue."
It's unclear whether the bill will pass the Legislature or even get out of committee, but several other pieces of pro-gun legislation have found support in the Missouri Capitol recently.
So far this session, the House has passed two firearms bills. One would allow gun owners to keep their weapons in their cars, even if business or property owners object. The other would protect gun owners from potential workplace discrimination, creating a special protected class in the law along with those protecting race, religion and gender.
Last year, lawmakers lowered the minimum age for concealed carry permits to 21 from 23.
Missouri isn't the first state to consider allowing concealed carry on public transportation. Texas passed a law in 2003 that prevents local governments from banning guns on most public properties, including public transportation. Georgia adopted a measure allowing concealed carry on public transportation in 2008, and Indiana's Legislature gave way to a similar effort last year.
Schieffer said his bill will allow people with proper training to carry their guns lawfully.
To receive concealed carry permits, gun owners must show that they have successfully passed gun safety training through certified instructors on topics from marksmanship to knowing how to clean and store firearms. Beyond the expense of training, the permit costs $100. Permits must be renewed every three years at a cost of $50 each time.
Adella Jones, vice president of government and community relations for Metro, said Metro was not consulted about the bill and was not asked to provide information about passenger safety.
Metro has contracts with St. Louis police department, St. Louis County Police and the St. Clair County Sheriff's Department, Jones said. Ninety percent of the officers that patrol the system are armed, she added.
Marx said he thinks more people will use public transportation — particularly with rising fuel costs — if the bill passes. "My whole point is that mass transit needs to be opened up to more people — more ridership," he said.
Rep. Mike Colona, D-St. Louis, disagrees. "Parents with kids who ride the trains aren't going to let them if they know people are packing on the trains," he said.
MetroLink rider Amy Lee of St. Charles said she doesn't agree with the idea of allowing transit passengers to carry concealed guns.
"That would scare me," she said. "I don't know that I would ride the Metro."
Nancy Kinney of St. Louis, a regular MetroLink and bus rider, said she would be less inclined to ride if she knew other riders could be carrying handguns. "I mean it's different if they're a security guard or a police officer," she said. "But John Doe? No."
Kerry Messer, a lobbyist for Missourians for Personal Safety, said many government restrictions on guns have been imposed out of fear.
"This is a bill that brings some reason back," he said of the effort to allow concealed carry on public transportation.
Ken Leiser of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.