Editorial Roundup: Missouri

Kansas City Star. October 27, 2022.

Editorial: Mourn St. Louis school shooting victims. Condemn lawmakers behind Missouri’s gun laws

A teacher and a student died following a shooting Monday at a high school in St. Louis. Several others were injured.

Alexzandria Bell, a sophomore, was on the school dance team. The teacher, 61-year-old Jean Kuczka, appears to have put her body between the killer and students.

The suspected shooter was killed by St. Louis police.

We mourn the loss of life, and offer condolences to the families and friends of the victims. We join with all Americans in condemning yet another act of gun violence in a school.

The facility, Central Visual and Performing Arts High School, appears to have been hardened against an attack, yet it happened anyway. The White House called the attack “senseless,” and it was certainly that.

In Missouri, though, senseless shootings — in a high school, in a parking lot, at a weekend fair — are entirely predictable. Its lawmakers have pursued reckless, senseless gun legislation for years. The state’s General Assembly, and its governor, have created the violent world in which all Missourians live.

“It was only a matter of time until something like this happened here,” state Sen. Karla May of St. Louis said Monday. “To see the violence that is happening everywhere and to act like it wasn’t going to come home, I don’t know what to say about that.”

Consider, for example, the Second Amendment Preservation Act, passed in 2021 and now a part of Missouri law. “All federal acts, laws, executive orders, administrative orders, rules, and regulations … shall be invalid to this state, shall not be recognized by this state, shall be specifically rejected by this state, and shall not be enforced by this state,” SAPA says.

There’s more. Under SAPA, local officials are prohibited from assisting any federal official in enforcing federal gun laws. In the St. Louis case, that means local authorities risk a fine if they cooperate with the FBI or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in their investigation of the shooting.

This could compromise the work in St. Louis. The shooter may have obtained his weapon illegally, or without a background check, which is generally required under federal law. The seller or sellers could face federal criminal liability.

If St. Louis police find such evidence, they may be precluded from sharing it with federal authorities. Had they found such evidence before the shooting, they risked a lawsuit if they shared it with the feds. It’s dangerous and appalling.

Local and federal authorities are permitted to work together to enforce Missouri’s gun laws. We hope and expect they will do so in this case.

The broader point still matters: SAPA prevents full enforcement of laws designed to prevent tragedies like the one in St. Louis. Republican state lawmakers complain relentlessly and inaccurately about alleged “defunding” of police, yet they have taken proactive steps to hamstring enforcement of gun regulations.

That’s not only defunding the police — it’s disarming them. That has to stop.

The Justice Department has sued to stop Missouri from enforcing SAPA. “This act impedes criminal law enforcement operations in Missouri,” U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement.

“The United States will work to ensure that our state and local law enforcement partners are not penalized for doing their jobs to keep our communities safe,” he said.

SAPA is clearly unconstitutional, and we expect the courts to say so. For now, it is also bad law.

After Monday’s shooting, several Missouri politicians — Attorney General Eric Schmitt, Gov. Mike Parson, Sen. Josh Hawley — expressed sorrow and remorse for the shooting. “Teresa and I are praying for the victims, their families, and the entire community,” Parson said in a tweet.

Missourians should join Parson in that prayer. Then they should demand that he, and others in the state, stop making their gun fetish more important than protecting innocent life.

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St. Louis Post-Dispatch. October 29, 2022.

Editorial: Missouri lawmakers made sure teen gunman faced minimal obstacles to arm himself

The more detail that emerges about the assailant in last week’s St. Louis school shooting, the more clear it becomes that his deadly violence was, in real ways, abetted by Missouri’s Legislature. Conservative lawmakers have spent more than a decade preventing or assertively tearing down every legal safeguard that might have stopped Orlando Harris from obtaining his weapon. Each step along the path that led to the deaths of two innocent people was cleared by pro-gun lawmakers in Jefferson City, who have worked hard to ensure their state has among the loosest gun laws in the country. And years’ worth of data indicates there are many other victims of their extremism.

Harris broke into the Central Visual and Performing Arts High School and Collegiate School of Medicine & Bioscience on Monday armed with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle. He managed to kill student Alexzandria Bell, 15, and teacher Jean Kuczka, 61, and wound several others before police killed him.

Unlike the grade school massacre in Uvalde, Texas, in May, no one this time can point to failures at the scene as a contributing factor. Police responded quickly and professionally to stop the rampage almost immediately. Before the attack, the shooter’s family went to extraordinary lengths to deny him access to a gun and to address his mental health issues. The school was well-secured, and well-prepared teachers were able to protect most of the students. Everyone did everything right.

Everyone, that is, except the Missouri elected officials ultimately responsible for protecting all of them. Consider:

• When a licensed gun dealer refused to sell Harris a gun on Oct. 8 because he couldn’t pass the federally required background check, the Legislature had already made sure that he could instead buy one from a private seller who had no legal obligation to run such a check.

• When Harris’ family called the police on Oct. 15, fearing that his mental state made it dangerous for him to be armed, the Legislature had already ensured there was no red-flag law in place that would have allowed them to get a court order removing the gun.

• Harris was 19, an age at which even mentally healthy people can be unpredictable. In recognition of that fact, numerous states, including Illinois, have raised their minimum age to buy all firearms to 21. But in Missouri, 18-year-olds can still buy semi-automatic weapons like the one Harris bought.

• Because Missouri doesn’t require permits to carry guns in most public spaces for anyone 19 or older, Harris theoretically didn’t even face the threat of being stopped and questioned as he transported his weapon on the street outside the school.

If a state intentionally designed its laws to make it as easy as possible for dangerous people to lay their hands on deadly firearms, that would look pretty much like Missouri’s laws today. This isn’t an accident or an oversight. It’s the result of a long campaign by Republican state politicians to methodically eliminate anything that their most extreme constituents might define as gun control.

The most glaring example is on the issue of background checks, which in this case worked the way it was supposed to — until Missouri law came into play.

Federal law says anyone who buys a weapon from a federally licensed gun dealer must submit to a background check to ensure that person isn’t legally prohibited from having one. Police haven’t specified why Harris failed the background check by the St. Charles gun dealer he tried to buy from two weeks before the shooting. But according to police, Harris had been committed at one point for his mental health issues, which is one element that can prohibit a gun sale.

That could have and should have been the end of it — except that Missouri, like some other red states, provides an extraordinary loophole for unfit people seeking weapons: They can go to a private seller, who doesn’t fall under federal background-check requirements, and buy the weapon, no questions asked.

Missouri used to have a universal-background check requirement for purchases of handguns, but the Legislature repealed it in 2007. Even if that particular law wouldn’t have prevented Harris’ purchase (because it was a rifle rather than a handgun), there’s been nothing to stop lawmakers from instituting a universal background check of all gun purchases, as other states have.

In Illinois, for example, even someone who buys from a private seller has to present a state Firearms Owners’ Identification Card, which means that person has undergone a background check by the state police. The private seller is required to contact the state police to confirm that the card-holder is still eligible to buy, and only then can sell.

It’s a reasonable system to prevent someone like Harris from arming up. And Missouri’s deliberate lack of such a system helps explain why it has almost twice the firearms death rate that Illinois does. In fact, Missouri’s rate today is consistently among the worst of any state — and far worse than it was just a dozen years ago.

Gov. Mike Parson’s astonishing comment on Thursday indicates just how much Missouri’s Republican leadership still doesn’t get it: “You got a criminal that committed a criminal act, and all the laws in the world are not going to stop those things.”

So what’s the point of having any laws at all? That a governor from the “law and order” party (and a former sheriff, no less) would spout such nonsense shows, once again, that Missouri’s Republican politicians are so deep down the gun-culture rabbit hole that they can’t even think straight on this topic. Voters should keep the stunning images from the school grounds foremost in their minds on Nov. 8 and remember: Elections have consequences.

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St. Joseph News-Press. October 28, 2022.

Editorial: Don’t get fooled by the cannabis cabal

You have to admire the chutzpah of Missouri’s titans of medical marijuana.

After voters approved medical cannabis in 2018, the licensing process generated quite a bit of outrage, more than a few lawsuits and a legislative hearing or two. You would think the response to this messy rollout would be to try to do better, perhaps with less opaque grading criteria during the inevitable expansion into recreational marijuana.

Think again.

No, those businesses that were fortunate enough to win medical marijuana licenses instead doubled down on trying to use the Missouri Constitution to cement their monopoly over what could become a $900 million industry. Those “vote yes” signs on Amendment 3 are green for a reason.

The time for moralizing about marijuana has long passed. At least 19 states allow marijuana for recreational use, and a total of 37 allow cannabis for medical reasons. Missourians showed their leanings with 65% approval of medicinal marijuana in 2018.

Supporters of widespread legalization can claim that prohibition shifts police resources from more serious crimes. Opponents can point to the experience in places like Colorado, where legalization brought an increase in marijuana-related traffic crashes and increased use among youth as young as 12.

Maybe these two versions of reality cancel each other out. The issue then becomes not whether legalization is advisable but whether Amendment 3, the industry-supported constitutional amendment to allow recreational use, is good public policy.

It is not. Missouri voters are being played for suckers and should reject it. Amendment 3 gives existing medical marijuana businesses the exclusive right to convert their licenses to recreational use without having to go through a rigorous application process. What’s more, the state is prohibited from issuing new licenses for nearly a year and a half, thereby affirming a lucrative hold on this industry. The amendment allows for greater consolidation with a provision allowing an entity to own 10% of state dispensaries.

Amendment 3 throws a bone to underserved communities with “microbusiness licensing,” but the concept is highly flawed because awards are based on a lottery system — not a review of whether applicants have adequate capital or expertise. By establishing watered-down marijuana businesses in poorer neighborhoods without providing adequate funding for business planning and loans, they are set up to fail.

Whether that’s the goal of the insider monopoly or an unintended consequence is irrelevant. Amendment 3 gives many Missourians what they want — legalization and expungement of past records — but with a sweetheart deal that’s too hard to swallow.

We don’t blame Big Marijuana for asking for the moon. We would blame voters for not seeing through it.

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