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Could this be the year Missouri fixes its domestic violence gun loophole?

  

It was promised to be an easy fix. The Missouri Legislature, in its haste to push through legislation expanding concealed carry in the state in 2016, accidentally stripped language from state statute preventing individuals convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or the respondent of a full order of protection from possessing a firearm. 

Lawmakers at the time vowed to come back the next year and add those protections — already enshrined at the federal level — back into state law. But it never happened. 

This year with a Republican handler, however, proponents are cautiously optimistic. 

HB 473 is carried by GOP Rep. Ron Hicks, passed unanimously out of the conservative House General Laws Committee, and is supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA). The bill would allow a court to prohibit an individual from possessing or purchasing a gun while a full order of protection is in effect following a hearing or after a conviction of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense. The Missouri State Highway Patrol would alert the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), the federal database used by firearm sellers, following a conviction or implementation of the full protection order. 

“We’re not rewriting law or reinventing the wheel or anything like that. This law already existed,” Hicks, from St. Charles County, told The Missouri Times. “You’re a criminal at this point when they take your firearms from you. … This is about protections. This isn’t about the Second Amendment. This isn’t about taking guns away from anybody. This is about protecting victims.” 

The bill also establishes a class D felony for those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses or who are the subject of a full order of protection to possess a firearm. 

When Missouri passed its constitutional carry law in 2016, eliminating the need for a permit for concealed weapons, it inadvertently eliminated prohibitions for domestic abusers to be able to maintain and purchase firearms, proponents said. Without the permit process, local law enforcement officials could not prohibit someone with a domestic violence conviction from purchasing a gun even though those protections still exist at the federal level. 

Domestic violence homicides with firearms increasing

There were 37 domestic violence-related homicides in Missouri in 2018, according to data from the Missouri State Highway Patrol compiled by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV). Of those, 71 percent involved a firearm. 

In 2016, 37 people were also killed in domestic violence incidents; but then, only 64 percent involved a firearm. 

Rep. Tracy McCreery, a St. Louis County Democrat, has been an ardent champion for this legislation and carried it in past years. (HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS/TIM BOMMEL)

Studies have also shown domestic violence incidents rose as the country locked down during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I think most Missourians would be astounded to know Missouri is second in the nation in the number of women homicide victims,” Colleen Coble, CEO of MCADSV said. “The majority of those women were murdered by someone they were in a relationship with, and the weapon used in the majority of those cases was a firearm. We have been increasing our numbers as the years have gone and this law has been on the books at the federal level for more than 20 years.”

“Missouri is one of the few states that doesn’t give the tools to local law enforcement to give additional protection to those who have already been harmed,” she said. 

A ‘public safety issue’ 

In early March, authorities said Bob McCulley killed a woman and her two children after breaking into her home and holding the family against their will. McCulley eventually died by suicide — but he reportedly had a history of abuse before the killing spree. One woman obtained a full order of protection against McCulley in 2016 after she said he brandished a gun at her and her child, according to Fox 2. 

“That’s the kind of loophole that [this bill] is trying to keep closed,” said Rep. Tracy McCreery, a St. Louis County Democrat who championed this legislation in the past. “I’m a responsible gun owner. I believe that the rights granted to us in the Constitution are for people who abide by the law. I feel like someone who has broken the law and shown through a court of law that they are violent, you don’t get to keep all your rights when you’re proven to be someone who doesn’t follow the law.” 

Getting this bill — or a version of it — across the finish line has been a labor of love for McCreery. She’s pushed for its passage in years past, arguing it’s a “public safety” issue. 

But this year, a Republican is at the helm of the bill, and advocates say they are more optimistic.

“I’m more hopeful than I’ve ever been,” Coble said. “I’m gratified to see the way that there has been a really strong community of supporters who have come together on the measure. Our position has long been that this is about consequence for criminal behavior. If you commit acts of violence against your family and the court has made that determination, then you’ve forfeited by your own criminal behavior your right to a firearm.” 

The bill has been referred to the House Rules – Legislative Oversight Committee where it’s sat since mid-March. The committee has about 100 bills waiting in the wings, and it’s unclear when — or if — it will take up HB 473. 

“If we get it out of the House and over to the Senate, I’m pretty confident we can get this done,” Hicks said. “I would like to have the debate on the House floor. Everybody likes to point their finger at the Republicans for this or Democrats for that; well, this is actually a bipartisan deal here. This is something that affects lives in our state and has brought everybody together, the whole legislature. They understand the protections that this thing can offer.” 

‘The outcome could have been much worse’

Before unanimously passing HB 473 out, members of the General Laws Committee were inundated with testimony from people begging lawmakers to implement this bill. Some came from advocates or those who work with shelters, detailing the impact the bill would make; but many recounted firsthand accounts of abuse. 

One woman detailed how she and her mother were victims of abuse, and she grew up fearful of being found by her father or brothers. Another woman recalled her father abusing her mother by pushing her down a flight of stairs, breaking her arm. 

“This was one incident in a pattern of abuse. If my father had a gun, the outcome could have been much worse,” she said. 

Others testifying in favor included the Missouri State Council of Fire Fighters and the city of Kansas City. 

“The life you [save] by passing this bill may be someone you know and love,” one person said.