New Missouri gun laws loosen restrictions, anti-gun violence initiative faces setbacks
Following the passage of recent Missouri gun legislation, Washington University—though a private campus with an anti-firearm policy—may see setbacks to the progress made by an anti-gun violence public health initiative led by Risa Zwerling Wrighton last year.
Earlier this month, Missouri passed pro-gun legislation that loosens regulations regarding who can buy weapons and how. Previously, people looking to acquire firearms had to get a state permit and complete an educational class before being allowed to handle concealed weapons, as well as pass mandatory background checks. With this new law, background checks are not required and once firearms have been purchased they can immediately be carried and concealed.
Zwerling, a four-year adviser at Washington University and wife of Chancellor Mark Wrighton, said she believes that although proponents of the bill are sincerely motivated to protect themselves and their families—lack of education surrounding the issue poses a problem.
“I don’t think most people have the information that this is going to wind up harming them more than helping them,” Zwerling said.
With high-profile shootings in cities across the United States, however, including Ferguson, Mo., Zwerling conceded that she understands the opposing viewpoint.
“Things have escalated to the point now where America is a scary place,” Zwerling said. “Urban centers are very scary and people feel the only way to handle it is to be able to defend themselves. And it’s escalated to a point where who’s going to be the one to say, ‘Oh, I’m not going to have a gun’ and someone’s going to come in and hurt my family and if I had a gun I could’ve saved them.”
In 2015, Zwerling came up with the year-long Gun Violence Prevention Initiative after talks with Missouri Rep. Stacey Newman. A series of speakers presented their views on topics ranging from Second Amendment issues to smart gun technology to using art to communicate the effects of gun violence does.
In May 2016, the Republican-controlled state legislature voted for the new gun laws, only to be vetoed by Governor Jay Nixon in June. He cited several problems in the bill.
“The bill would render meaningless the existing authority of sheriffs to deny concealed carry permits, allowing individuals to legally carry a concealed firearm even though they have been or would be denied a permit because their background check revealed criminal offenses,” Nixon wrote in his veto.
But, on Sept. 14, the Missouri Senate voted to override the veto by a vote of 24-6. Soon after, the bill was approved in the House 112-41. It will become law Jan. 1.
Under the new laws, sheriffs can no longer refuse to issue weapons on the grounds of previous criminal activity or domestic abuse record.
According to law professor Gregory Magarian, many people support certain systems that the new bill has voided.
“Two things that a lot of people seem to favor across the spectrum are meaningful background checks to sort of root out domestic violence offenders and some sort of sensible permitting system or public carry,” Magarian said.
The new laws will allow more people to buy guns, including those that may have been refused in years past.
“In general, to the extent people favor limitations on gun regulation, it does seem like the biggest, most common driving factor is a feeling of personal safety, the desire for personal self-defense,” Magarian said.
What many consider to be the most controversial part of the new bill is the “stand your ground” provision. Under this, someone will not have to make an attempt to back out of a threatening situation before using deadly force.
“I think it’s a racist provision; I’m not saying it’s intentionally racist, but it’s certainly racist in effect. It sort of licenses or validates a lot of what are unfortunately retrograde social latitudes,” Magarian said. “You feel threatened, you can stand your ground…Those situations are going to break disproportionately in a way that protects white shooters of black victims, if experience is any kind, and that’s terrible.”
Although the new law allows guns on public college campuses, Magarian said he does not think the University ever will.
“I think the objective arguments are bad and I think this University administration, like most university administrations, is more sympathetic to liberal views on guns,” Magarian said. “We haven’t really seen a whole lot of private universities go to a campus carry policy.”
In Zwerling’s opinion, gun violence is not an easy issue to solve.
“It’s killing more people than most people know,” Zwerling said.