Kansas City Council passes 2 gun control measures to mitigate the surge in homicides
The new proposals ban devices that turn guns into automatic weapons and prohibit the transfer of weapons, including ammunition, to minors.
Amid an alarming increase in homicides this year, Mayor Quinton Lucas and the Kansas City Council passed two pieces of local gun control legislation in a state that is notorious for its lax gun laws.
These ordinances are the first gun control measures put forth by Lucas as he begins his second term. Both ordinances passed with a 12-1 vote. One proposal bans certain weapons, including machine guns, firearm silencers and guns that are turned into fully automatic weapons. The second makes it illegal to transfer weapons, including ammunition, to minors.
City officials say the ordinances would target an increase in fatal shootings caused by the proliferation of automatic weapons and an increase in violence impacting young people.
1st District Councilman Nathan Willett, the sole “no” vote on both ordinances, said he worries the legislation would preempt state law and lead the city into a costly lawsuit with the state.
“This would lead us on a path towards a legal battle that would rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees,” Willett said.
The mayor’s office is confident both measures comply with state law.
There have been 125 homicides in Kansas City so far this year, according to The Kansas City Star, which includes fatal police shootings. By this time last year, The Star recorded 101 homicides. According to data from the Kansas City Police Department, people between the ages of 18 and 24 make up 25% of all homicide victims so far this year, and kids 17 and under make up 10%.
Melesa Johnson, director of public safety for the mayor’s office, said homicides are 21% above the city’s five-year average, but non-fatal shootings are down by 10%.
“This indicates that many of our Kansas City shootings are simply more lethal and result in more victims and fatalities,” Johnson said. “This is due in large part to the prevalence of fully automatic weapons on our streets.”
Daniel Webster is a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He studies gun policy and violence prevention. He said the mayor’s proposal is a logical response to the growing number of devices that turn guns into fully automatic weapons.
“A firearm's ability to fire a lot of rounds quickly does impact, certainly, the number of individuals shot in any given shooting,” he said, “and typically the number of wounds that someone receives, which is directly related to their chances of survival.”
What the legislation does
The mayor’s proposals would make it illegal to possess a machine gun, firearm silencer, a shot gun or a short barrel gun. The legislation defines a machine gun as any firearm that fires more than one shot automatically without manual reloading and includes guns that are modified to fire as a fully automatic weapon. Devices used to convert a semi-automatic weapon to a fully automatic weapon — like a switch or bump stock — are also banned under the legislation.
The other ordinance makes it illegal to give weapons to a minor under 18, including ammunition, without parental consent.
Johnson told city council members on Wednesday that the mayor’s proposals mirror federal law, and give local law enforcement another arrestable offense to get criminals and weapons off the streets. Machine guns are already prohibited under federal law.
“When officers are enforcing and viewing 3D printers or a mass amount of Glock switches, mass amount of chips, it does give them another mechanism to confiscate those items and pursue legal recourse,” she said.
Johnson said switches — small devices that can fit onto a handgun and allow for fully automatic fire — are cheap and easily accessible.
“When these types of firearms and devices are on our streets, it leaves more innocent bystanders in jeopardy than ever before,” Johnson said.
Deputy Chief Luis Ortiz of the Kansas City Police Department said officers have seen an increase in the number of shell casings at crime scenes. With more bullets being fired, Ortiz said more people are being fatally shot when they are not the intended target.
“It used to be anywhere from five to seven shots being fired on any typical crime scene,” Ortiz said. “Now we see those numbers from 60 to 80 to a hundred and up. That's so different than what we used to see.”
Anyone found violating these laws locally faces up to a $1,000 fine or 180 days in jail.
Are the measures legal in Missouri?
The mayor’s office said the two proposals are legal and in line with Missouri’s existing gun laws. Missouri already prohibits the transfer of firearms to minors without parental consent. Mayor Lucas’s proposal expands that language to include bullets and cartridges under the definition of a firearm. Missouri also bans machine guns — Kansas City’s ordinance includes modified pistols under the definition of a machine gun.
A spokesperson said the mayor’s office has not heard anything from state officials about the legislation.
Republican-led Missouri already has lax gun control laws. In 2021, lawmakers passed the Second Amendment Preservation Act, which penalized police for enforcing federal gun laws. A federal judge struck down that law in March, ruling that it was unconstitutional. Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey is appealing that decision.
Webster says the deregulation of guns in Missouri can be tied to an increase in gun violence.
“There (are) two different mechanisms by which Missouri state laws are harming Kansas City,” Webster said. “One is, it's increasing the diversion of guns after a retail sale, something we call straw purchases, another form of gun trafficking. And the other mechanism is by increasing gun thefts.”