Gov. Mike Parson’s pledge of funding, personnel and other aid to St. Louis to deal with its gun-violence epidemic is welcomed. But his refusal to lead in getting the firearms themselves under control gives his efforts a hollow core.
No one expects Parson, a conservative Republican and gun-rights advocate, to embrace all the reforms gun-control activists want. But as a former sheriff, how can he dispute the simple proposition that no one should be able to buy a gun without a criminal background check? Or that local elected officials should be able to regulate the carrying of guns within their jurisdictions?
Parson says these are issues for the Missouri Legislature, and that he must “stay in my lane.” Wrong. They’re leadership issues, and that is a governor’s lane.
These are violent times, even by St. Louis standards, with more than 130 homicides so far this year — mostly shooting deaths — a spike of almost two dozen from this time last year. Thirteen victims under 18 have died by firearms this year.
There’s no single cause of all this mayhem, but one issue is hard to ignore as a likely contributor: the Republican-controlled Legislature has, for years, been on a gun deregulation binge that has given the state one of the loosest sets of firearms laws in the country. Today, the state doesn’t require a background check when someone buys a gun from a private seller, doesn’t require a permit to carry that gun and doesn’t allow local jurisdictions like St. Louis to impose their own stronger rules.
The upshot is, a dangerous felon who isn’t legally allowed to have a gun can, in practice, easily buy one from any private dealer in Missouri and carry it around in public, with minimal legal mechanisms for police or anyone else to stop him before violence erupts. And we wonder why St. Louis can’t get these shootings under control?
To Parson’s credit, he sat down with Mayor Lyda Krewson and local clergy last week and vowed state action, including increased assistance from the Missouri Highway Patrol, technology like gunshot-detection sensors and funding for social programs to address the root causes of violence. This is all valid.
But as the Post-Dispatch’s Rachel Rice reported, Parson effectively took any serious gun-safety proposals off the table. Krewson reasonably wants St. Louis to be able to require permits to carry guns in the city, but the state has tied her hands. And the continuing lack of a state requirement for universal background checks on gun sales makes a mockery of the premise that criminals should be prevented from getting guns — a premise even ardent gun-rights advocates support.
Parson needn’t turn his back on his gun-rights principles to lead his state to common sense on these issues. The “lane” he’s in now is going nowhere good.