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Gun Package To Expand Concealed Carry Rights In Churches, Buses Headed To Senate For Final Approval

Lawmakers are looking toward getting a controversial gun bill to the governor’s desk this week as the session inches toward a close.

House Bill 944 was brought to a Senate committee to hear witness testimony and hash out differences related to the bill’s terms late last week. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Rodger Reedy, R-Windsor, and handled in the Senate by Sen. Jason Bean, R-Holcomb.

In its original form, HB 944 sought to provide protections for farmers to defend their livestock from predators by allowing them to use firearms from a stationary vehicle on their own property.

Discharging a firearm from a motor vehicle is currently against the law. The definition of motor vehicle was also expanded to include any self-propelled vehicles.

As it made its way through the House, other priorities from Republican lawmakers were tacked on as amendments, such as making firearm businesses and manufacturers essential during a state of emergency, lowering the concealed carry permitting age to 18 and allowing concealed-carry permit holders to lawfully bring firearms in churches and on public transportation. The bill would also allow one to transport nonfunctional or unloaded guns on public buses.

An amendment was added by Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City, to establish the long-discussed “Blair’s Law,” which would allow law enforcement to arrest and punish individuals who irresponsibly fire guns. The amendment was met with bipartisan support in the House.

Blair’s Law and stray gunfire

“Blair’s Law” was created following the death of an 11-year-old girl named Blair Shanahan Lane on Independence Day in 2011. A stray bullet — fired by a group of men engaging in so-called celebratory gunfire at a lakeside dock more than three football fields away — punctured Blair’s neck while she was playing on a private driveway with her friends near Kansas City’s Truman Sports Complex.

It is common practice in large cities like Kansas City and St. Louis to shoot firearms when sports teams win, for birthday celebrations and other celebratory occasions. Law enforcement in these cities currently have no guidelines for how to react to these celebratory flying bullets.

“That’s by far the most important piece,” Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, said at Friday’s Senate hearing. “There’s also property damage issues that comes with that. I actually am going to have to fix a part of my roof because I have a bullet lodged into it. It’s gunfire that came down, and it’s now lodged in the shingles of my roof.”

Blair’s mother, Michele Shanahan DeMoss, appeared before the Senate committee to testify.

“I’ve been running the longest marathon and getting ready to turn the corner on 10 years of lobbying,” she said.

Alane Booth, a Kansas City Police homicide detective who looked over Blair’s case, also testified in support of Blair’s Law’s inclusion in the overlying bill.

She said that the absence of the law often ties a prosecutor’s hands and that raising the offense from a minimal misdemeanor to a felony would deter more people from taking the risk. “This isn’t just for fun because I have access to a gun,” she said. “What are the potential consequences if the police are called to investigate who discharged firearms?”

Buses and Church

While Blair’s Law received support from the entire committee, there was less fanfare for two amendments allowing concealed-carry permit holders to lawfully bring firearms in churches and on public transportation.

Supporters of the public transit amendment believe it would discourage criminal activity on public transportation systems and give riders the ability to carry for the purposes of self-defense. Opponents say that there is no evidence that allowing concealed-carry permit holders to have firearms on transit improves safety and security.

Last year, the St. Louis region’s mass transit agency, Metro, issued a suspension directive — the Ride and Abide policy — to reduce the number of serious incidents that take place on its buses and platforms, St. Louis Public Radio reported. Several riders have already been suspended — most for a full year — for offenses ranging from property damage to assault.

There are exceptions. It doesn’t apply to Amtrak trains or any partnership company of Amtrak.

“I’ve spoken to the sponsor of the House bill (to) let them know we didn’t have any issues with the underlying bill,” said Mike Winter of the Missouri Transit Association. But in regard to the amendment allowing guns on buses, “You’ve heard two of those bills this year, and you know our opposition. So, I’ll leave it at that.”

Several of those representing places of worship have also testified against allowing guns in churches without a pastor’s consent throughout the session.

Gun-free zones are areas where firearms are federally prohibited with or without a permit. The amendment would remove churches from that category.

According to current Missouri law, a concealed carrier must have permission from a church leader or someone representing a given religious organization. The amendment would change the default so that bringing a gun is allowed by law unless the church prohibits it.

Many religious leaders have condemned gun proposals allowing people to carry concealed firearms in church without permission from clergy, with a St. Louis’ Catholic archbishop even threatening to sue on freedom of religion grounds after a 2018 House bill looked to allow it.

“If this was all about Blair’s law,” said Trevor Dancer, who leads First United Methodist Church of Jefferson City, “I would be standing in total and absolute favor.

“This particular portion of the bill takes away the permissions of allowing pastors to have discretionary say in who brings firearms into the places of worship,” he said. “We have a safety team. We know their background. We know their training. As lead pastor, I have had the privilege of asking people to not be on the safety team and to not concealed carry because they didn’t meet our requirements.”

Razer moved to slash the controversial amendments, to no avail. Both he and Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, said they would send the bill to the Senate floor for final approval in an attempt to work on removing the controversial amendments.