COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — The Missouri state House passed on Tuesday legislation to end the misdemeanor crime of giving guns to children without their parents’ permission, along with a number of other bills aimed at addressing violent crime.
Gov. Mike Parson, a Republican, had asked lawmakers to do the opposite — increase penalties for giving guns to minors — when he called them back to the Capitol for a special summer session on crime. He said the goal was to penalize criminals who unlawfully use firearms, then pawn them off on children to avoid being caught by police.
But the Republican-led House revisited the policy over concern that grandparents or other family members could currently be charged with a misdemeanor for taking children shooting without permission.
Instead, the House voted to ditch that law and make it a felony to give firearms to minors only if the intent is to avoid arrest or criminal investigation.
Bill sponsor Rep. Nick Schroer, a Republican, said that the policy was focused on adults who were “victimizing our youth” and that it would reduce crime.
Democrats slammed the proposal as taking away parents’ control.
“Now the parent has no bearing on whether the kid gets the gun or not,” said Rep. Judy Morgan, D-Kansas City.
Other bills that passed Tuesday include a measure to establish a fund to pay for witness protection services. Lawmakers will later need to find money to pay for the program.
The House also voted to end the requirement that St. Louis police live in the city, which drew backlash from St. Louis lawmakers who said the decision should be left to city residents.
St. Louis voters in November are slated to weigh in on the policy. If they vote to keep the residency requirement, their decision would be overturned by the state bill.
The measures now head to the state Senate for debate.
Parson has said he hoped bills considered during the special session on crime would have wide support and pass quickly, but that hasn’t been the case.
Activists on Tuesday once again interrupted lawmakers with chants of “criminal justice reform, not rhetoric” before being removed from the House chamber. Protesters disrupted debate in the Senate with the same chants earlier this month.
Other bills on Parson’s wishlist have stalled.
A bill to change the age at which judges are required to consider trying children as adults for certain felonies and violent crimes has not passed the state House.
The House hasn’t even held a hearing on a contested proposal by Parson to give the attorney general the power to prosecute homicides in St. Louis, a move that was widely seen as a criticism of Democratic Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. She’s the city’s first Black prosecutor and supports greater police accountability and using diversion programs instead of incarceration.
Civil rights activists and some lawmakers have also panned Parson for prioritizing bills to crackdown on crime over issues of police accountability and longstanding racist practices in policing.
Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, said it was “crazy” that during what he described as a pandemic of people of color being killed, Missouri lawmakers were “not addressing the root cause of it.”
“Being tougher on crime [and] incarcerating young individuals that look like me, that look like you LaKeySha [and] that look like other members of this body isn’t going to do anything but incarcerate more individuals and not get to the root cause of the problem,” Aldridge said to fellow St. Louis Democratic Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, who also is Black.
Parson has said police accountability policies should be addressed when lawmakers return for their annual five-month regular session in January when there will be more time for debate and public input.