Missouri Gov. Mike Parson's State of the State Address last Wednesday didn't offer enough solutions to overcome a rash of gun violence happening statewide, Democrats said.
Parson said his fixes for the problem involve three steps: providing greater protection for victims and witnesses, providing more mental health resources and services, and strengthening laws intended to penalize violent criminals.
"We won't always agree, and there will always be issues we feel passionately about," said Parson, who began discussing the issue of gun violence by announcing he's always supported the Second Amendment. "But I am confident that by working together, the potential for our regions — and the entire state of Missouri — is even greater."
That's well and good, according to a statement released by Everytown for Gun Safety, which is associated with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, but the state of Missouri is falling behind other states on the gun violence issue.
Jefferson City resident Scott Randolph is a volunteer and state leader for Moms Demand Action. He said the organization was optimistic in November, when Parson said he agreed domestic abusers should not have access to guns, a policy that aligns with federal law.
"Just two years ago, Kansas lawmakers passed domestic violence prevention legislation by a combined vote of 153-6 — and there is no good reason Missouri's lawmakers can't pass a similar law here," Randolph said. "But we need leadership from the top. While we welcome the governor's openness to helping cities fight gun violence, we're disappointed he hasn't backed reasonable, lifesaving reforms that will close deadly gaps in our gun laws — reforms that have received strong bipartisan support in other states. Gun violence is a serious issue that kills over 1,000 Missourians every year — the eighth highest rate of gun deaths in the country."
Democrats also made it immediately clear they didn't agree with the governor.
Before the address, Parson and staff had participated in meetings with state lawmakers and mayors and police chiefs of the four largest metropolitan areas in Missouri — St. Louis, Springfield, Kansas City and Columbia.
Of all the things mayors and chiefs asked for, they received only the promise of additional funding for witness protection programs, state Rep. Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said during the Democratic caucus' response to the address Wednesday.
"They had a slew of other requests that they are asking him for that the governor has not responded to," said Quade, the House minority leader. "Maybe he's halfway listening, but when the experts are asking for these things to better their cities, and when police chiefs are asking for specific legislation to be passed, we should be listening to them."
Democrats have taken the city leaders' suggestions and filed bills intended to ease gun violence, she said.
The Democratic caucus is to hold a news conference early this week to discuss the legislation.
"Hopefully, the other side will listen to what they are asking for," said Quade, who acknowledges it's an uphill battle for her party because Republicans hold a super-majority in the state Legislature. "I don't want to say that nobody is listening."
A number of bills Democrats filed address domestic violence, Randolph said. However, getting support across the aisle is difficult.
"We hope a bill will be filed by Republicans that will (keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers)," Randolph said. "We hope the governor will take action on that. That's kind of what we have been focused on."
As part of his address, Parson promised to promote initiatives that incorporate more mental health resources in the public safety sector and encouraged more coordination among law enforcement organizations.
Quade said she didn't want to speak for the mayors but knows they want safer communities. And she believes the mayors are happy that — possibly for the first time in the state's history — they are involved in the conversations and the work on policy issues.
A day before the State of the State Address, the Missouri Foundation for Health announced it is partnering with the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research about gun violence within the state. NCGVR's mission is to fund and disseminate nonpartisan, scientific research that offers the public and policymakers a factual basis for developing fair and effective gun policies.
The collaboration is asking researchers and doctoral students working on dissertations to address gaps in what is known about gun violence and generate evidence to address the issues more effectively.
NCGVR will fund scientific research on topics likely to provide valuable information needed by the public and policymakers in efforts to create programs and policies that will save lives and prevent violence.
"Missouri-relevant research involves descriptive or applied research that specifically investigates programs, policies or interventions used in or developed for Missouri, or that studies the experiences of Missourians, and that produces findings that are specifically relevant to policymakers and the public in Missouri," according to the foundation website. "Missouri-relevant research is not restricted to the study of only data from Missouri if comparison of those data with non-Missouri data is useful for clarifying the Missouri-specific effects of a policy or experience of Missourians."