Efforts this year to close Missouri’s domestic violence gun loophole were ultimately unsuccessful this year — but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle promised to continue their efforts next year.
The loophole was created in 2016 when Missouri expanded concealed carry in the state, doing away with permits. Language preventing individuals convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor or the respondent of a full order of protection from possessing a firearm became essentially null since it was triggered through the concealed carry permit process.
Legislators at the time vowed to come back the next year and add those protections back in — but it never happened.
Right to bear arms + safeguarding vulnerable people
While a House bill, sponsored by a Republican, stalled in the lower chamber, Sen. Lauren Arthur thought she found the perfect avenue to once and for all address Missouri’s domestic violence gun loophole: the Second Amendment Preservation Act.
Dubbed SAPA, the massive pro-gun package had been earmarked a priority for Republicans in both chambers before session’s end. It would nullify certain federal laws that restrict gun ownership, including those related to confiscation orders, taxes, and tracking. And as it came to the Senate floor on the second to last day of session, Arthur attempted to add an amendment — that would mirror federal law — to prevent those convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm.
“It is my hope that as we have a discussion about the right to bear arms that we also have a conversation about how we can keep vulnerable people safe and that guns and intimate partner violence are deeply connected,” Arthur said.
Democratic Rep. Tracy McCreery has long attempted to fix the issue in the General Assembly. This year, the effort gained more traction as Rep. Ron Hicks, a Republican, sponsored legislation that 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 federal background check database used by firearm sellers following a conviction or implementation of the full protection order.
The bill unanimously passed out of the conservative House General Laws Committee and codifying federal language was supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA). But still, it stalled in a rules committee in the lower chamber.
Arthur’s amendment, as adjusted, stuck to just those who had been convicted of domestic violence — stripping the orders of protection language from the prohibition language in an attempt to make it more palatable to Republicans wary of gun ownership restrictions.
“I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people who have had abusive partners, and hearing their stories is pretty harrowing,” Arthur told The Missouri Times. “I think as a state, we have an obligation to help keep people safe. If someone is violent toward a partner or child, I think that person has forfeited his or her rights. I had pledged to work on behalf of vulnerable people in our state, and this seems like a really commonsense thing that people should be able to come together on and agree.”
But during floor debate, Sen. Bob Onder called Arthur’s amendment “red flag language.” While the ins and outs of so-called red flag laws can differ by state, they essentially allow a court to remove a firearm from someone deemed to be a threat to themselves or other people. Arthur’s proposal stuck to preventing someone who has been convicted of domestic violence from possessing a gun, and she pushed back on the “red flag” narrative.
After several hours of debate, Arthur’s amendment failed by a voice vote. And while she argued on behalf of her measure, she received threatening messages from those listening to the Senate proceedings.
But she’s not giving up. And neither is Hicks.
Both lawmakers promised to tackle the issue next year when the legislative session gets underway again. When asked if he’ll champion the issue in the lower chamber again next year, Hicks said: “Hell yes I am.”
Arthur said she hopes to see something pass that does include orders of protection — because it’s then that volatile situations can be particularly dangerous — and wants people to understand this isn’t an “arbitrary attempt to take away someone’s rights.”
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.
Before unanimously passing Hicks’ 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.
“The life you [save] by passing this bill may be someone you know and love,” one person said.
Kaitlyn Schallhorn is the editor of The Missouri Times. She joined the newspaper in early 2019 after working as a reporter for Fox News in New York City.
Throughout her career, Kaitlyn has covered political campaigns across the U.S., including the 2016 presidential election, and humanitarian aid efforts in Africa and the Middle East.
She is a native of Missouri who studied journalism at Winthrop University in South Carolina. She is also an alumna of the National Journalism Center in Washington, D.C.
Contact Kaitlyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.