JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Missouri lawmakers passed a sweeping expansion of gun rights Friday, allowing people to carry concealed guns without needing permits while also expanding their right to stand and fight against perceived threats.
The legislation, which now goes to Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, was among the most prominent measures passed by the Republican-led Legislature on the final day of its annual session. Nixon hasn’t commented on the bill, but had a news conference planned for after the session ended.
Under the measure, most people could carry concealed guns, even if they haven’t gone through the training now required to get a permit. The legislation would also expand the state’s “castle doctrine” by allowing invited guests such as babysitters to use deadly force against intruders. And it would create a “stand-your-ground” right, meaning people would have no duty to retreat from danger in any place they are legally entitled to be present.
Republican supporters described it as a reasonable approach to personal safety, while many Democrats decried it.
“There won’t be blood in the streets,” said Rep. Joe Don McGaugh, of rural Carrollton. “But what there will be is more people protected by the right to bear an arm legally.”
Ten other states already have what supporters describe as “constitutional carry” allowing concealed guns without permits, including ones enacted this year in Iowa, Mississippi and West Virginia, according to the National Rifle Association.
The NRA says 30 states have laws or court precedents stating people have no duty to retreat from a threat anywhere they are lawfully present. But Missouri’s measure would make it the first new “stand-your-ground” state since 2011, according to both the NRA and the opposition group Everytown for Gun Safety.
Florida’s “stand-your-ground” law came under national scrutiny after neighbourhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges and, while “stand your ground” was not directly mentioned in his trial, the law was included in the jury instructions.
Several Missouri Democratic lawmakers cited Zimmerman’s case while raising concerns that the legislation could lead to a shoot-first mentality and dubious self-defence claims.
“It doesn’t make the state safer, it opens it up to murder,” said Democratic Rep. Brandon Ellington of Kansas City, chairman of the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus.
Other black lawmakers said they feared it could make it more likely that black residents would get shot by people prejudiced against them.
“To me, this is modern-day lynching,” said Democratic Rep. Kimberly Gardner, of St. Louis. “This bill would allow open season for vigilante style behaviour and put all of us at risk.”
The legislation passed the Republican-led Senate on a 24-8 party-line vote. The House then gave it final approval 114-36, with a little over an hour remaining before the session’s mandatory end.
The final day of Missouri’s session typically is a fast-paced affair. But senators who worked late the night before did not bring up the gun legislation Friday until after first finishing a free lunch sponsored by many of the state’s largest utilities and lobbying firms.
Senators adjourned well before the mandatory quitting time without acting Friday on a House bill that would have banned most lobbyist gifts besides meals to which all lawmakers and statewide elected officials are invited. The bill was a priority both for Nixon and new Republican House Speaker Todd Richardson, who took over after his predecessor resigned amid a sexually charged texting scandal with an intern.
Other bills that fell by the wayside Friday included several imposing additional abortion restrictions and another that would have asked voters to raise the fuel tax by nearly 6 cents a gallon to generate more than $235 million annually for state and local roads and bridges.
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