Gov. Mike Parson this week is pushing a Missouri violent-crime package with some useful ideas. His call to end the rule requiring St. Louis police to live within the city is something this newspaper has long supported. His push for more funding for witness protection, increased penalties for those who give guns to children and other ideas are worth consideration.
But the two-pronged tool that city police desperately need to combat the violence is still missing: Background checks should be required for all gun purchases, and permits should be required to carry guns, at least within the city. And there’s another prong that citizens need: A recognition that police chokeholds and other deadly practices are, in fact, violent crimes that deserve to be addressed with equal urgency.
Parson has called a special session for next Monday to address rampant violent crime that’s buffeting the state, especially St. Louis. Just over halfway through the year, the city has seen 135 homicides — a rate that, if it continues, would make 2020 one of its deadliest years. This more than justifies a special session.
The violent-crime crisis is, by definition, a gun crisis. Carjackings, gang murders and bystander killings aren’t being done with rocks and sticks; they’re being committed almost entirely with handguns in a state with some of the loosest gun laws in America.
How loose? Almost any adult in Missouri can legally buy a gun from any other adult — no questions asked, no license or permit required. The buyer can then carry that gun, concealed, into communities throughout the state.
Felons aren’t allowed to buy guns, but since Missouri has no background-check requirement for sales, there’s no way for a private seller to know whether the buyer is a felon. For police, it means they have no way to identify an illegal gun and get it off the street until someone is arrested using it.
As for police reform: It’s true that it’s a complicated issue that needs its own legislation. But there’s one aspect of reform that should be included in the upcoming violent-crime bill: Police chokeholds and other abusive practices are violence, and they should be designated as crimes. A chokehold ban not only fits logically into anti-crime legislation but would send a valuable message to both police and the public about just how unacceptable this maneuver is.
Parson has taken both gun permits and police reform off the table for the session, saying they’re separate issues that can be debated later. He should reconsider. Addressing St. Louis’ violence epidemic without addressing the guns is like trying to reduce highway fatalities while insisting on no speed limits. And after the nation watched a Minneapolis police officer slowly squeeze the life out of George Floyd with a form of chokehold, the law should leave no question of its criminality.
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