A bill that would allow concealed carry permit holders to bring guns onto college campuses and other places drew opposition from public safety officials from Lincoln University and the University of Central Missouri in a hearing Thursday.
The Senate Transportation and Public Safety Committee heard two bills Thursday morning that are intended to strengthen gun rights, both sponsored by Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Battlefield.
One was "anti-commandeering legislation" that bars any law enforcement officer in Missouri from enforcing federal gun laws that infringe on Second Amendment rights.
The other allows people with concealed carry permits to bring guns and other deadly weapons onto college campuses and other places they're currently restricted. Allowing concealed carry on campus was the most controversial part of that bill, with leaders of campus police of two universities testifying against it.
Gary Hill, Lincoln University's police chief, testified that allowing people to carry guns on Lincoln's campus could lead to accidental shootings or escalate fights. Breaking up fights on campus is hard enough when the people fighting aren't armed, he said.
Hill, who is also a firearms instructor, said he's troubled by accidental discharges that kill or injure people. Even he has recently been in a situation where he could have accidentally discharged his weapon, when it fell out of his holster and onto the ground as he was taking off his jacket in a restaurant, he said.
Scott Rhoad, director of public safety at the University of Central Missouri, said he hasn't been in a situation in 30 years of law enforcement that he thinks would have gone better if the person had a gun.
He said many states that do allow concealed carry on campuses require people to be 21 before getting a permit, while Missouri allows concealed carry at 19. Most of the students on the UCM campus are younger than 21, he said, so more students would be allowed to carry than in other states.
"My students have said, 'I don't need to move in with someone I don't know who has a firearm or dangerous weapon,'" Rhoad said.
Along with campuses, the bill repeals gun-free zone provisions for churches, local and state government meetings, polling places, bars and restaurants that sell liquor, buildings with childcare facilities, casinos, amusement parks and hospitals.
Burlison argued gun-free zones put people at a greater risk of being a victim of a mass shooting. He cited examples of recent shootings that occurred in gun-free zones or in places that would have been in Missouri. He pointed to a man who shot and killed two people with a shotgun in December in a church in White Settlement, Texas, before a former reserve deputy sheriff in the congregation shot and killed him.
"The longer Missouri code retains the gun-free zones we have, the longer we empower criminals who know that, in these areas, their job has been done for them because law-abiding citizens cannot fight back," Burlison said.
Private businesses like private universities, restaurants and churches could still decide to make their establishments gun-free zones, Burlison said. His bill does decriminalize bringing a concealed weapon onto private property without the owner's permission. Currently a class B misdemeanor, under Burlison's bill the offense would be reduced to a $100 fine if the person refuses to leave the property and the owner calls law enforcement.
Burlison proposed the bill, and it was heard in the same committee but never voted on. A similar bill from Rep. Jered Taylor, R-Republic, was added last year as an amendment to a bill that would allow colleges to designate staff as campus security officers, which passed the House and the Senate Transportation committee but did not get a vote in the Senate before the end of the session. This year, Taylor's bill has not yet been referred to a committee.
Stopping federal restrictions
Burlison's other gun rights bill heard in the committee Thursday would invalidate federal laws that infringe on Missourians' Second Amendment rights, Burlison said — including any tax specifically on guns, ammunition or accessories, registered tracking systems of guns or their owners, and ordered gun confiscations.
"The Constitution does not give me the right to bear arms. It does not give me the right to have a firearm," Burlison said. "The Constitution actually protects the right that I already have, that was given to me by my Creator."
Dale Roberts, who is director of the Columbia Police Officer Association, but said he was not testifying on its behalf, said the federal government had creeped beyond its authority and infringed on gun rights.
Proponents of Burlison's bill said law-abiding people needed guns to defend themselves. When Roberts was a judge in Boone County, he said he received anonymous, threatening letters. He was told to contact the sheriff's department and police, and to carry a gun, he said.
"They didn't say, 'Call 9-1-1,'" Roberts said. "They said, 'You should carry a gun.'"
Jeanne Mihail, who was at the hearing with other members of the gun-control advocacy network "Moms Demand Action," said the bill would tie the hands of Missouri law enforcement from stopping criminals and preventing gun trafficking. Burlison's bill would make any officer who enforced federal gun laws liable for damages if the gun owner sued them.
"That means they could get sued and have to pay the damages out of their own pockets just for doing their jobs," she said.
Mihail said the bill doesn't make clear what federal laws can and can't be enforced. It seems intentionally vague in order to prevent Missouri law enforcement from enforcing any federal gun laws, she said.
Burlison proposed the bill last year, but it wasn't voted on in the Senate. Rep. Jeff Pogue, R-Salem, has proposed similar bills the past four sessions, but they have not gained traction. The House and Senate passed versions of the bill in 2014, but the session ended before the two chambers could agree on a single version to pass.