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By Elise Brown, Intern
In the wake of the tragedy that unfolded in the early hours of Sunday morning, the heated debate over gun laws has surged once again to the forefront of national debate. Around Missouri, candidates and incumbents alike tweeted their support and prayers for victims and their families. Yet the same legislators that readily offered heartfelt sympathies to those in Orlando have flat-out rejected attempts in their own state to protect their communities from the horrors of gun violence.
This spring, State Representative Stacey Newman cleverly adopted the rhetoric of anti-choice advocates in a piece of legislation that proposed gun purchasers in Missouri face similar restrictions as patients seeking an abortion in the state. Her bill aptly illuminated the stark contrast between the state’s stringent reproductive laws and their lax stance on gun violence prevention (GVP). She urged Missourians to notice the wide discrepancy between the state’s regulations on a private healthcare measure versus a public health crisis.
Though 81% of Missourians support common-sense GVP reforms, such as universal background checks, Rep. Newman faces opposition from a Republican-dominated legislature that she describes as "bought by the gun lobby”. In the 2016 spring legislative session, the Missouri legislature passed a "Stand Your Ground” law which included provisions permitting untrained individuals to carry a concealed firearm, allowing invited guests to use deadly force towards intruders, and abdicating the duty of individuals to retreat from danger. "People are going to die as a result of this bill” warned Rep. Newman, adding that, "we actually cry on the House floor because we know that these bills are affecting real people’s lives”.
In 2007, Missouri eliminated the 1921-issued permit-to-purchase law that had effectively ensured mandatory background checks for all gun purchasers in the state, regardless of whether they bought from a licensed or unlicensed seller. Eliminating PTP, along with other measures, evoked a natural experiment supporting the oft-cited relationship between relaxing gun laws and gun violence escalating. John Hopkins researcher David Webster estimated that this repeal correlated with an increase of 55-63 murders annually from 2008-2012. The observed gun homicide rate increase of 16% over the next six years prevailed even as the nation’s rate fell by 11%. Guns linked to crimes doubled from 2006-2010. Facing this wealth of evidence, lawmakers in Missouri still refused to enact GVP legislation.
Rep. Newman reports that when it comes to gun violence "no community is immune”. While mass shootings dominate media coverage, gun-related suicides, domestic abuse incidents, and so-called "accidental” shootings all contribute to the high prevalence of gun violence in Missouri. She challenges the conception that gun-related deaths are a problem experienced only in high-density population centers, reminding Missourians that violence does not differentiate by zip code.
In another hypocritical twist, legislators that were quick to tweet their condolences to those wounded in Orlando had sought to undermine the LGBTQ community throughout the spring legislative session. Candidate for Attorney General Kurt Schaefer, who tweeted "Praying for the victims and families of this horrific terrorism in Orlando” voted for both "Stand Your Ground” and SJR 39; a proposed amendment intended to protect businesses that deny same-sex couples wedding services. So did Will Kraus, who tweeted "My thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by the shooting in Orlando Florida." Republican state Sen. Eric Schmitt, had a similar message: "Horrifying act of terror in Orlando. My prayers are with the victims and their families. #PrayersForOrlando”. Rep. Newman reprimanded these legislators’ words of support, telling them not to "come back and tell me you care”, when their voting records suggests the opposite.
To fellow Missourians frustrated with the direction the conservative-controlled legislature has taken us, Rep. Newman encourages them to simply "show up to vote”.