The state House voted 123-34 to pass a measure that would allow school teachers to carry concealed weapons in their classroom and act as "school protection officers." Republican supporters said during debate that those teachers could protect students from a school shooting like the one that killed 26 people in Newtown, Conn. in December.
But Democrats, led by Rep. Stacey Newman, said that putting guns in classrooms would be a dangerous practice. Newman, D-St. Louis County, said Republicans were backing the bill as a means of expanding firearm usage to support gun manufacturers. She said lawmakers should be doing more to prevent gun deaths in the urban areas of the state, many of which she said are inner-city children."And we think it's funny. We think it's all about being powerful, it's all about our 'rights', but the rights of those kids are ignored," Newman said.
The House passed the measure after about an hour of contentious debate between Newman and several GOP lawmakers. Republicans like Rep. Wanda Brown made the case that the absence of guns in school actually leave children more vulnerable because there is little a teacher can do to respond to an armed intruder."People like you have fought for years to make those gun-free schools zones and look what happened, " Brown said to Newman. "So if you want to talk about shameful, maybe you need to look in the mirror."
In the Senate, the General Laws Committee voted 3-1 along party lines to move forward a bill that would lower the age limit for getting a conceal and carry permit from 21 to 19. That idea is part of a bill that would also make it a felony for any state official to enforce federal gun laws.
Sponsoring Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said the provisions on federal gun laws are not merely symbolic. He said that he fears that Congressional Democrats will move to expand federal health care laws to include gun control measures in light of the Newtown shootings. He said he wants to stop those additional laws from being enforced in Missouri.
"For a calculated president to pass legislation through Congress and really shove it down the American citizens throat and then to tie in gun control--that's deplorable," said Guernsey, R-Bethany.
St. Louis Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, said gun laws have a more negative impact on urban areas like St. Louis than they do on rural areas.
"They way we deal with guns in the inner city is totally different from the way those individuals deal with guns in rural areas," Nasheed said. "They like to hunt animals. We have criminals that like to hunt people," Nasheed said.
Nasheed added that she owns a gun and has a conceal and carry permit herself. Nasheed said she does not have much of a problem with this specific bill, but she thinks the state legislature is wasting too much time and effort on gun laws.
"We've been dealing with guns all session, and we have more pressing issues like the budget and Medicaid expansion," Nasheed said. "We have the opportunity to receive millions of dollars of federal money (for Medicaid) for three years at no cost to the state, and we're saying to our constituents no? And then we want to talk about guns all day long? I don't think so."
Guernsey said the importance of the bill is to protect the sanctity of the U.S. constitution.
"We have guaranteed in the constitutional a right to bear arms, and if you believe one part of the constitution you have to believe all of it," Guernsey said. "It seems like in this day and age, people want to believe the constitution is a suggestion if anything, and the fact of the matter is we have a tenth ammendment right to preserve all of our constitutional rights when the federal government steps out of bounds which is exactly what we are seeing in Washington these days."
That bill is now headed to the Senate floor and can be sent to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon with a single vote if senators don't make any changes. The bill aimed at arming school teachers must work its way through the Senate committee process and get a vote of the full Senate before it can go to the governor. Lawmakers' actions on the two bills come as time is running short in their regular spring legislative session, which ends May 17.
Nixon himself has largely been absent from the debate on gun rights measures, in contrast to governors in other states like Connecticut, where the governor had a strong hand in the passage of more stringent gun control measures. Missouri's governor has spent most of the session barnstorming the state to try to generate support for an expansion of the state's Medicaid program, an idea that has been voted down several times and that Republican lawmakers declared "dead" late last month.
Missouri Digital News is produced by Missouri Digital News, Inc. -- a non profit organization of current and former journalists.