JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The Great Missouri Capitol Metal Detector experiment is set to come to an end with the start of a new fiscal year next month. As of July 1, the budget will no longer allocate funding for Capitol police or other security personnel to man the newly installed metal detectors which raised eyebrows and sometimes ire this year.
Rep. Kurt Bahr, the chair of the Appropriations – General Administration Subcommittee – said the budget committee had declined to grant the $750,000 needed to man the metal detectors for the coming fiscal year. Instead, it will spend $250,000 to hire and properly equip five new Capitol police officers after a study found a physical presence from officers did more to deter crime at the Capitol than metal detectors.
As Missouri is an open carry state and after the passage of a controversial gun bill in 2016 allowed concealed carry without a permit, many lawmakers wondered what the metal detectors were meant to keep out of the building. Some representatives, especially Rep. Nick Marshall, were incensed that a ban was placed on concealed weapons in the Capitol; it was seen as a violation of Second Amendment rights.
The hassle that came along with the metal detectors also made them deeply unpopular with lawmakers, staffers, lobbyists and other frequent visitors to the Capitol.
“The inconvenience of the metal detectors is just extreme,” Bahr said. “My office window is right outside on the second floor where most of the visitors come in, and so when I was at the Capitol, I just saw lines of school kids waiting in the cold, waiting in the rain, waiting in the sun, waiting to come into a building that had forever been an open building. It’s just a terrible idea to say we’re going to process these people through metal detectors when having a couple of cops will do a better job providing security.”
The Missouri Retired Teachers Association cancelled their legislative day set for early in the session as the weather would be too cold for hundreds of retirees to wait their turn to get into the building.
“You have to make it a choice if you want to make it the people’s building or are you going to put up a roadblock,” MRTA Executive Director Jim Kreider said in January.
While many fingers have pointed the past few months about who decided to install the metal detectors, Bahr pointed the finger squarely at the previous gubernatorial administration.
“The previous Office of Administration under Doug Nelson and Gov. [Jay] Nixon had taken money that was appropriated for a bonding authority that was appropriated to repair the Capitol building and used that under a specious argument that since the Capitol had security cameras, buying new x-ray machines constituted repair,” Bahr said. “There was a few of us that were upset with the stretch in authority they had used.”
However, Bahr also expressed his frustrations that Gov. Eric Greitens continued a policy that the Nixon administration supporter with the new badge policy that went into effect this year. Representatives, state employees and members of the press could use specially-issued badges to get into the Capitol without going through the metal detectors, noting that it excluded numerous people who access the Capitol everyday.
While the x-ray machines will no longer be manned, they will not be going anywhere – for now, at least. Bahr said the plan is to keep the metal detectors and use them once again in the case of an elevated terror threat or for special occasions in the Capitol, like the State of the State address.