The new year means new legislation, and Republicans in at least two states have gifted their constituents with laxer gun restrictions to kick off 2017.
Although fatal shootings are already a more common cause of death in Missouri than car accidents, a new law allows anyone 19 or older who owns a gun to carry it in public, concealed, without getting training or a permit.
"This law would allow anybody to go get a gun, carry it, and never have to fire the weapon until they think it's necessary to use it, without any education whatsoever," Sheriff Mike Sharp of Jackson County, who was among several law enforcement officers opposed to the law, told NBC News’ Pete Williams.
Despite a veto from Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon last year, the Republican-led legislature voted to override the blockade. The new measure allows owners to avoid a state-approved training course previously required in obtaining a permit to carry. Owners of firearms will be able to conceal and carry them anywhere in Missouri. Some public places, such as courtrooms and jails, are still off limits to concealed carry, but breaking that rule will be considered a misdemeanor rather than a felony.
“We're lowering the standard. We are creating the perfect storm,” former State Representative Kim Gardner warned her colleagues during the veto session last year. The National Rifle Association was jubilant, calling the override “a great day for freedom in Missouri.”
Kevin Ahlbrand, legislative director for the Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, expressed concern that despite the NRA’s glee, the new law would place undue burdens on already overstrained law enforcement.
“Our biggest fear is criminals who have not been convicted of a felony but are engaged in criminal activity will be legally carrying guns, and we’re now going to have to assume everyone is armed,” Ahlbrand told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When we show up to a scene and there are five guys with their guns out, what do we do?”
St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said the new law “will leave (citizens) less safe, and make the job of law enforcement more difficult and put our officers in danger.”
The new gun laws took affect January 1. Missouri now joins Idaho, West Virginia and Mississippi as one of four states to adopt “permitless carry” in 2016, bringing the total number of U.S. states to 12.
Beyond lifting the rule about permits, the law also expands the state’s castle doctrine and creates a controversial stand-your-ground right. The new law no longer requires people to attempt to back away from trouble in public, as in a tavern parking lot, before using deadly force if there is fear of bodily harm.
Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a lawmaker from Ferguson, which erupted in protests after the 2014 fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, warned that enacting the stand-your-ground standard would mean another “bad Samaritan like Zimmerman.” She was referring to the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teenager, by George Zimmerman in Florida four years ago.
Over in Ohio, Republican Gov. John Kasich signed into law a new measure that allows service members to carry a concealed weapon without a permit, and shrinks gun free zones in the state.
The new law allows concealed carry permit holders to bring firearms inside school safety zones as long as the guns are in their vehicles. That means that gun-owners in Ohio can legally carry hidden, loaded handguns near daycare centers and on some college and university campuses.
“Governor Kasich ignored the concerns of law enforcement, business leaders, gun violence survivors, moms, daycare providers, campus stakeholders and students,” Michelle Mueller, of the Michael Bloomberg gun safety group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said in a statement. “By signing Senate Bill 199, Governor Kasich is siding with gun lobby interests over public safety.”
Ohio is increasing the number of places where concealed carriers can legally carry. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Ohio and 23 other states allow some form of campus carry.