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Kansas City Nightclub Shooting Exposes Rift Between Democrat, Republican Solutions For Gun Violence

Jaclyn Driscoll
St. Louis Public Radio
State Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, proposed legislation that would increase the penalties for armed criminal action in an effort to clamp down on gun violence across Missouri.

Missouri lawmakers are at odds on how to solve the spike in gun violence and gun deaths in urban areas across the state, discussing it this week in the wake of one of Kansas City’s worst shootings in recent memory. 

Jahron Swift who allegedly shot 16 people, one fatally, outside of 9ine Ultra Lounge in southeast Kansas City on Sunday night was killed by a security officer. Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said her office dropped charges against Swift in 2016 because a change in state law allowed adults to carry a concealed firearm without a permit.

Baker, who is also the chair of the Missouri Democratic Party, called on Republicans to allow proposals like strengthening background checks to at least come up for debate. 

Credit Aviva Okeson-Haberman / KCUR 89.3 File Photo
KCUR 89.3 File Photo
Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker is calling on Missouri lawmakers to debate gun control measures.

“The state of Missouri, at least the state legislature, has said almost no regulation is what they want to live with and I think it’s time to open that up to debate,” Baker told KCUR. 

On Tuesday, Missouri House Democrats highlighted gun control legislation they believe will address the violence. But Republicans have pushed back against calls for stricter restrictions on firearms. 

Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, a Republican who represents parts of Platte and Buchanan counties, has a bill that would lengthen the sentence for armed criminal action from three years to no less than five years for a first offense, rising as the offenses stack up. 

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has signaled support for bills that “target violent criminals” during his state of the state address. He previously said he was for some red flag laws and stricter background checks but has since backed away from that stance. 

At a news conference Tuesday, House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, was asked how realistic proposals are if they don’t have support from Republicans. 

“We as the Democratic caucus don't function on what is realistic and what's not, we function on what we know has to be done,” Quade said. “... We have constituents reaching out to us every single day saying, ‘Please help us we're scared. We're scared to send our kids to school. We're scared to go to a nightclub in Kansas City to celebrate a Super Bowl win because people are dying.’

“So we're going to continue to push this conversation just as we did over the summer until the Republicans are willing to sit down,” she added.

Legislation filed by Democrats includes red flag laws, strengthening background checks, prohibiting anyone on the No-Fly List from accessing firearms and keeping handguns out of the hands of minors. Quade said her caucus is working with House Republicans, but none have publicly supported any of the proposals yet. 

“Some of these things that we’re asking for does not infringe on people’s 2nd Amendment rights,” said Kansas City Democratic Rep. Richard Brown said. “The things that we’re asking for are common-sense gun legislation to keep people safe.” 

Less than an hour later Tuesday in a committee hearing, Senate Republicans laid out one of their ideas to combat the violence: changing Missouri’s criminal code to keep violent offenders in prison longer. 

Luetkemeyer said it’s time for “common-sense” approaches. 

“The justice system has stopped locking up many of the people that we’re scared of,” he said, adding, “We must shift our focus towards policies that deter people from committing violence and remove violent offenders from our streets.”

The committee also heard legislation from state Sen. Doug Libla, R-Poplar Bluff. His bill would increase penalties for unlawful possession of a firearm by someone convicted of a “dangerous felony, a crime of armed criminal action, or trafficking drugs” from a Class D felony to a Class C felony. 

The penalty for this crime includes three to 10 years in prison and up to $10,000 in fines. Involuntary manslaughter is considered a Class C felony in Missouri.

Follow Jaclyn Driscoll on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

Aviva Okeson-Haberman is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow her on Twitter: @avivaokeson.

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