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After mass shooting, Kansas City officials want to regulate guns. Missouri won't let them

Thousands gather for the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVIII parade on Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Kansas City, MO.
Julie Denesha
Thousands of Kansas City Chiefs fans gather outside Union Station on Wednesday to celebrate the team's Super Bowl victory. The celebrations were cut short when gunfire rang out, killing one person and injuring more than 20 — including nine children.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson was met with boos as he addressed a crowd of thousands at the Kansas City Chiefs victory parade on Wednesday.

“If you want to see the Lombardi Trophy,” Parson declared, “you’re going to have to fly your asses to Kansas City, Missouri, and we’ll show you four trophies.”

A half-hour later — after Parson handed over the microphone to the returning Super Bowl champions and festivities began wrapping up — gunfire rang out near the Union Station stage. Pandemonium erupted as the large crowd scattered.

The Republican governor and his wife, Teresa, were still attending the event when the shooting took place. They were safe from the violence.

Almost two dozen people were injured, however, and one person — Lisa Lopez-Galvan, a beloved radio DJ for KKFI — was killed. Nine children were among those shot.

In a Thursday interview with Kansas City radio talk show host Pete Mundo, Parson blamed the shooting on seemingly everything but guns.

“We can’t let some thugs and criminals take over and ruin what happened,” Parson said. “It’s just sad. I was there yesterday. I feel for these parents, these kids, everything that went on, it was such a wonderful day and then all of a sudden you end with that.”

Parson’s six years as governor of Missouri have been defined in large part by his support of weakening gun restrictions and often adversarial approach to Kansas City’s Democratic-led government — made possible through the support of a Republican-dominated legislature.

Governor Mike Parson holds up law after signing ban on enforcing federal gun laws.
Carlos Moreno
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson celebrates signing a law in 2021 that invalidated federal gun laws in Missouri. A federal judge later ruled the state law unconstitutional.

Gun violence has been an ongoing problem. Last year, Kansas City, Missouri, saw 185 homicides, a record number. That includes fatal police shootings, which the Kansas City Police Department does not report in its homicide statistics. But city officials have their hands tied by the State of Missouri when it comes to enacting meaningful gun safety laws.

Local lawmakers can’t do much, if anything at all, to regulate firearms in Kansas City. “I’m telling you, right now, for me and Teresa, our hearts and prayers, it doesn’t seem like enough,” Parson told Mundo. “But it’s all we’ve got to offer right now.”

On Thursday, Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher abruptly ended a press conference after a series of questions on gun safety.

“We're looking at that investigation as it's unfolding, obviously. We’re rather sorry for those who have lost their lives, they’re heavily weighed on our shoulders we saw what happened. And as that unfolds, we'll have greater comment.”

Media surround Mayor Quinton Lucas, far left, Interim Fire Chief Ross Grundyson, and Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves on Feb. 15, 2024, during a press conference about the Chiefs parade shooting.
Zach Perez
Media surround Mayor Quinton Lucas, far left, interim Fire Chief Ross Grundyson and Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves on Thursday during a press conference about the shooting at the Kansas City Chiefs parade.

Why Kansas City can’t pass its own gun control

Kansas City is handcuffed on gun safety initiatives by a longstanding Missouri law, known as preemption, that prevents any county, city or municipality from passing legislation regulating the sale, purchase, transfer, ownership, use, possession, transportation, licensing, permit and registration of firearms.

Those powers rest solely in the hands of the Missouri legislature.

“One is stuck between a rock and a hard place," Mayor Quinton Lucas told NPR's All Things Considered on Thursday afternoon. "You can constantly run afoul of state laws.”

With a Republican supermajority that attempts every year to further erode any lingering gun regulations in the state, Kansas City lawmakers don’t believe that change — or help for combating gun violence — is coming any time soon.

“I'm not hopeful,” Missouri Democratic Rep. Ashley Aune told KCUR’s Up to Date on Thursday. “The only solution to this is electing more Democrats in Missouri, full stop. That's the only way things will change. Republicans have had a supermajority in our state. They have been running everything for 20 years. That is why we are where we're at today with our very lax gun laws.”

Aune was inside Union Station when the shooting began. She said she hid in a bathroom with another Missouri legislator from the Kansas City area, Rep. Emily Weber.

State Representative Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, poses for a portrait on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2024, at the state Capitol in Jefferson City. Aune, who was first elected in 2020, is the Missouri House of Representative's next minority leader.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri state Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, was inside Union Station when a mass shooting began during a Kansas City Chiefs victory parade and rally in Kansas City.

Other Democratic lawmakers, several of whom were not far from Wednesday’s violence, shared Aune’s frustration.

Kansas City Council member Andrea Bough was at the rally with her 20-year-old son when gunshots rang out. She said she’s feeling frustrated because she can’t craft or pass legislation as a city council member to regulate guns.

“We are limited, and those at the state and, and frankly at the federal level, have refused to act,” Bough said. “We, here, at the local level who are living with it, are helpless. I mean, I feel helpless as a mother, watching children and hearing the stories of children and hearing the stories of the number of children that were physically harmed yesterday.”

“It just breaks my heart that I got into public service to help people,” Bough continued. “And there is very little I can do to help.”

Bough said she doesn’t think this high-profile mass shooting will be enough to galvanize Missouri lawmakers to make changes.

“I don't see that as enough to move the needle far enough to make for meaningful action to occur,” she said. “I'm just pessimistic. I would love for this to be the catalyst for change. I hate that it had to happen again, but at some point it has to be enough.”

Jackson County legislator Manny Abarca IV was at the rally with his daughter. When the gunfire began, he picked her up and rushed into Pierpont’s — a fine dining restaurant — in Union Station.

Abarca said he’s ready to craft policies addressing gun control, even in the face of Missouri’s strict rules. He said he would host a county meeting at 10:30 a.m. Monday to discuss changes.

“I don't care what the legality says preemption may do. I want that policy on my desk,” Abarca said. “I want to send a clear message to Jefferson City that in this county, this legislator, is going to act, and if that means we're preempted, then be prepared for a lawsuit. And I think it's those types of actions that local elected officials can take to show that we're not playing with this issue.”

Kansas City’s inability to change gun laws also overlaps with the inability to control its own police department.

The department is governed by the State of Missouri through a five-person Board of Police Commissioners, four of whom are appointed by the governor; the fifth member is the Kansas City mayor.

Kansas City is the only major city in the U.S. to have this kind of arrangement.

The police governing system and preemption laws impact how Kansas City officials can govern. The most control the city council can exercise is over the department's budget. But even then, a state law requires the city to allocate 25% of its general fund to police.

“We don't really have the ability to even address public safety,” Bough said. “We write a check.”

In his recent city budget proposal, Lucas proposed pay increases for police officers, including raising starting salaries by 30%. But as he told NPR, a lack of police presence wasn't the problem at the Chiefs parade and rally, which was staffed by more than 800 law enforcement officers from 30 agencies.

“That tell us that the guns, that the types of guns that we have, and their accessibility, easy availability, is a problem," Lucas said.

Local and state efforts to pass gun laws

A group of people stand on a stage at a park as one takes an oath of office.
Zach Perez
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas is sworn in for his second term in August 2023. Lucas said one of his main priorities was stopping gun violence.

Despite all that, Kansas City officials have still attempted to pass gun control measures in hopes of combating the city’s high homicide rates.

In an effort spearheaded by Lucas, the council last summer passed two gun control measures to ban devices that turn guns into fully automatic weapons and prohibit the transfer of weapons and ammunition to minors.

Supporters said the ordinances would address an increase in fatal shootings caused by a proliferation of automatic guns and an increase in violence involving young people.

The new ordinances give law enforcement another arrestable offense to get criminals and weapons off the streets. Violators face up to a $1,000 fine or 180 days in jail.

The mayor’s office said the two proposals are legal and align with Missouri’s existing rules. But speaking on KCUR’s Up To Date in September, Parson criticized the attempt at passing gun laws.

“You can't supersede state law, just like I can't supersede federal law,” Parson said.

Still, there are local officials who want more power and say in regulating guns. A ballot initiative campaign called “Sensible Missouri” would allow voters to give Kansas City and St. Louis the ability to pass their own gun laws. A lawsuit put that initiative on hold.

Lucas said last summer on KCUR’s Kansas City Today podcast that restoring local control would make communities safer.

“A one-size-fits-all approach in Missouri that’s existed for a while, for some time, isn’t working when we talk about gun violence,” Lucas said.

Few gun laws in Missouri but a lot of gun deaths

Outdoors street scene in daylight shows a Black woman from behind with her left hand resting on her hip and her right hand holding a box of tissue paper on her right hip. In background a police officer can be seen in the shadows with yellow police tape blocking a street.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Rosilyn Temple with Mothers in Charge stands near a crime scene on College Avenue near 74th Street in Kansas City, Missouri, on June 14, 2023, where a homicide occurred in the morning. She was standing by to comfort neighbors and family.

Missouri ranks as one of the states with the loosest gun laws in the U.S., according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. At the same time, Missouri ranked fourth highest for gun deaths in 2022, according to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm data.

Missouri law does not require permits when purchasing or carrying firearms, whether concealed or in the open, and doesn’t require people to register their firearms. Missourians are not required to obtain a license to shoot a firearm, either.

In Missouri, open carry of guns in public is legal, though people are not allowed to do so in a “threatening” way. Concealed carry of firearms is also legal.

Kansas City, Missouri, does restrict concealed carry of guns in several places, including hospitals, places of worship, liquor stores, near polling areas, schools or child care facilities, sporting venues, government buildings and jails or law enforcement buildings.

In recent years, Parson and Missouri’s Republican-dominated legislature have pushed through new laws to loosen what few gun rules the state does have. One proposal was taken to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2021, Parson signed the “Second Amendment Preservation Act” into law. The legislation allowed citizens to file lawsuits seeking up to $50,000 if they believed that enforcement of federal gun laws violated their constitutional rights to keep and bear arms.

The law brought an end to several partnerships between local police departments and federal law enforcement, for fear that working together might spark lawsuits. A lawsuit backed by 60 Missouri police chiefs claimed the law opened up police departments to the possibility of lawsuits for enforcing any gun regulations at all.

The U.S. Justice Department, St. Louis, St. Louis County and Jackson County all sued to block the law. In March 2023, a U.S. District Court ruled that it was unconstitutional, violating the standard that federal law trumps state law.

The attorney general appealed, with Parson’s support. But the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case. That means the law remains blocked, and Missouri can’t enforce it.

Gun proposals in Missouri’s current legislative session

Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, walks through the Missouri House of Representatives on the first day of the 2024 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, walks through the House on the first day of the 2024 legislative session on Jan. 3 at the Capitol in Jefferson City.

But even as courts nullified one attempt to loosen gun restrictions, Republican lawmakers have kept trying.

More than a dozen proposed laws in Missouri’s current legislative session would make guns easier to buy, more widespread and harder to regulate.

The proposed changes include making purchasing firearms easier for felons who plead guilty or no contest to a crime; allowing more guns in public places likepublic transit and K-12 school buildings; and restricting employers from barring employees from being armed while at work.

In January, the Missouri House Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education moved forward with HB 1440, which would allow local administrators to increase how many people are allowed to carry weapons inside schools.

In the state Senate, SB 1273 would allow anyone with a valid concealed carry permit to carry firearms on public transportation and inside churches. It would also lower the age requirement to apply for a concealed carry permit in Missouri from 19 to 18.

Another proposal is the “Anti-Red Flag Gun Seizure Act,” which would make it illegal for federal or judicial orders to confiscate firearms from “law abiding citizens.”

Red flag gun laws are measures on the city and state level, which often come up after mass shootings, allowing authorities to disarm an individual judged to be a threat to themselves and others.

Fans begin to gather in front of Union Station to celebrate the Kansas City Chief’s Super Bowl LVII victory before a parade and rally in downtown Kansas City, Mo., Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2023.
Julie Denesha
KCUR 89.3
Fans begin to gather in front of Union Station to celebrate the Kansas City Chief’s Super Bowl LVII victory in February 2023 before a parade and rally in downtown Kansas City.

Democrats in the Missouri legislature, meanwhile, have put forward several bills over the past two years to address gun violence, with limited success.

A bill banning celebratory gunfire within municipality limits, dubbed Blair’s Law, was reintroduced this session by Rep. Mark Sharp, D-Kansas City. Blair’s Law was included last session as part of an omnibus public safety bill that passed out of the Missouri General Assembly, but it was vetoed as a whole by Parson.

Blair’s Law is named after Blair Shanahan Lane, an 11-year-old Kansas City girl killed by a stray bullet shot into the sky during July Fourth celebrations in 2011.

Parson said he couldn’t approve the bill due to some of its other provisions, but he noted that he would support Blair’s Law if it stood on its own.

In an interview with KCUR in December 2023, Sharp said he expects Blair’s Law will receive full support from the legislature. The bill recently won first-round approval in the Missouri House.

“There are far too many instances in this state and unfortunately in our urban areas where people simply just lack the care they need to have with firearms,” Sharp said.

Another measure, SB 996, would make it a crime to knowingly fail to secure a firearm in the presence of a child under 17 years old and make it a class D felony or higher if the firearm causes harm or death to a child. The bill moved to committee in late January.

State Sen. Angela Mosley, D-St. Louis County, filed a bill this session that would restrict the purchase of assault weapons and large capacity weapons and make the illegal purchase of those items a class C felony. The bill would also restrict any person 16 or older with a history of confinement for mental illness from purchasing firearms without court approval.

It has yet to move past a second reading.

St. Louis Public Radio's Sarah Kelloggand the NPR Midwest Newsroom's Daniel Wheaton contributed to this report.

Celisa Calacal is a government and politics reporter at KCUR in Kansas City.
Kavahn Mansouri is an Investigate Reporter for the NPR Midwest Newsroom based in St. Louis.