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Bid to ban red flag laws defeated in Missouri Senate committee

Dozens of community members gather on Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, during a vigil for Central Visual and Performing Arts High School at Tower Grove Park. A gunman attacked the school in south St. Louis on Monday morning, killing two and injuring seven.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
A Missouri Senate committee defeated a bid to curtail what are known as red flag gun laws, which seek to disarm people who are a threat to themselves or others. Nine days before a teen killed a student and a teacher at Central Visual Performing Arts High School in St. Louis last year, the shooter's mother asked police for help removing the AR-15-style rifle used in the attack, but police determined he was legally allowed to keep the gun.

Two GOP senators are at odds over the defeat of legislation that sought to bar red flag gun laws from being enforced in Missouri.

While some GOP lawmakers feel the measure is a way to protect Second Amendment rights, others contend it’s a political stunt with a slim chance of passing judicial muster.

Sen. Bill Eigel’s legislation would have prohibited Missouri officials from enforcing red flag laws, which typically allow law enforcement with a court order to confiscate a firearm if a person is found to be a threat to themselves or others.

Proponents of red flag laws say they can be an effective way at preventing someone from committing gun violence. But many Republicans such as Eigel say the laws are an infringement on Second Amendment rights.

“And so I don't trust the government,” Eigel said Wednesday. “I have a hesitancy about government and empowering them to that degree at the expense of the rights that I believe have been given to us by God.”

When Eigel’s legislation was brought up for a vote on Wednesday in the General Laws Committee, Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, expressed unease about considering the bill so soon after six people were shot to death at a Nashville school.

“I mean I think it’s a little disheartening quite frankly to even be having this conversation given what happened two days ago in Nashville,” Hough said. “But I’m more than happy to have a vote right now, Mr. Chairman.”

Hough then joined two Democratic senators to vote against the bill, stopping it 3-3.

Eigel said Hough’s vote was a departure from GOP lawmakers “taking votes to defend the Second Amendment.”

“So I think that's going to come as a great shock to Republicans around the state of Missouri,” Eigel said. “And I don't think I'm going to be nearly the only one that is also disappointed.”

Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks with Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, during the first day of the legislative session at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, speaks with Sen. Holly Thompson Rehder, R-Sikeston, on Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023, during the first day of the legislative session at the Missouri State Capitol in Jefferson City. Hough said Sen. Bill Eigel's bill is a political stunt that would almost certainly be struck down in court.

‘Blatantly unconstitutional’

Hough said that Eigel’s bill was “blatantly unconstitutional” and would likely suffer a similar fate to that of the Second Amendment Preservation Act. That measure sought to penalize law enforcement officials for enforcing federal gun laws.

“I’m a little tired of doing these politically motivated, disingenuous nullification of things that we know are unconstitutional and are going to get tossed out in court,” Hough said. “I mean, we're just wasting everybody's time with this.”

Eigel said that even though a federal judge rejected the Second Amendment Preservation Act earlier this year, it’s not out of the question that it could be resurrected once it goes through the appeals process.

“Now, regardless of what a rogue liberal judge may or may not say, that doesn't release us in the General Assembly from continuing to do everything we can do to defend Second Amendment rights,” Eigel said. “So if Senator Hough is afraid to defend those rights, because he's concerned about what judges may or may not do, I think he's missing the entire point of being a senator in the first place.”

Hough said that even “commonsense, conservative gun owners” know that “we’ve got children dying.”

He added if a red flag law is crafted in a right way that doesn’t infringe on someone’s constitutional rights, then he didn’t think “having a few parameters in place that keeps kids safe and keeps teachers safe and keeps our community safe is a bad thing.”

“I think these guys have bastardized what the Second Amendment is,” Hough said. “I'm a hunter. I've got a safe full of guns at my house. Right? But I don't think that everyone on the planet needs to be just openly carrying and doing whatever they want to do all the time. I think these guys have gone too far. And I think most reasonable commonsense people would agree.”

“And if these guys want to stand out here on the Senate floor for days on end, saying that we need to protect children, then why don't we start protecting them in schools?” Hough said.

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Springs, has been a major figure in the 2022 debate over congressional redistricting.
Harrison Sweazea
Senate Communications
Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, says Hough betrayed a core GOP principle of defending gun rights.

Hough and Eigel have history

Eigel and Hough have been at odds for a number of years. Last year, Eigel, as well as other GOP senators in the now-disbanded Conservative Caucus, supported an unsuccessful primary challenge to Hough.

Now in his second four-year term, Hough is chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee. Eigel is considering running for the GOP nomination for governor next year.

After being asked if he’s received any blowback from voting against Eigel’s bill, Hough replied: “Honestly, I did Senator Eigel a favor if you really want to know the truth about this.”

“I mean, what I've done now is I've given him a platform to say, ‘Look how crazy Senator Hough is,’” Hough said. “So actually, you know, what Bill? You're welcome. If that thing just would have passed out of committee, he would have gotten two seconds. I think you've known me long enough. I don't do this stuff for political reasons. I do it because I think, you know, because I think it's the right thing to do.”

When asked to respond to Hough’s comments, Eigel laughed out loud before saying he “appreciates the senator’s comments.”

“I keep talking about the status quo in Jefferson City derailing good legislation that would otherwise derail the rights of the people,” Eigel said. “And yes, Lincoln Hough has made himself the epitome of an example of this particular issue. And the Second Amendment rights issue is primarily one of the reasons why Missouri became a red state in the first place.

“And so absolutely, we're going to continue,” he added. “I want to see us continue to be aggressive about protecting that particular right when we have Republicans deviate so strongly once they're in office from what they said they would do in campaign season — like Lincoln Hough has just done.”

Eigel said it’s possible that the idea of banning red flag laws could come back in some form, adding that other lawmakers have put forth similar versions of his bill. Hough also said he thinks the issue will return to the forefront of Senate debate.

“I'm happy to have the conversation with him,” Hough said. “And I'm happy to have a conversation about keeping kids safe and keeping communities safe anytime he wants.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.