When it comes to gun controls, federal proposals and those by state legislatures in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma are headed in opposite directions.
The deaths at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and other recent shootings have brought calls from President Barack Obama for bans on assault weapons and high capacity gun magazines, as well as other controls.
Federal lawmakers from the region are lining up on the other side of that argument. The same with state legislatures in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. Lawmakers in all three states have before them proposals that would bar or restrict the federal regulation of firearms or ammunition.
Of 35 bills assigned to the General Laws Committee of the Missouri House of Representatives, 21 involve guns or gun rights. A few, in reaction to recent school shootings and other gun violence, would limit the possession of some guns. But the majority propose to protect gun rights or further expand them in the state.
Every member of the Joplin-area delegation in the House has signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill that would bar state and county officials from enforcing any federal law or regulation on firearms or ammunition manufactured in the state. The measure, sponsored by Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, would also make any rule or law enacted after Jan. 1 unenforceable in the state.
Sen. Ron Richard, R-Joplin, who is majority floor leader in the Senate, said he sees “absolutely no chance” that any measure restricting gun ownership would pass in this session of the General Assembly. At the same time, Richard said he’s not heard much in the Senate about Guernsey’s bill aimed at limiting firearms restrictions by the federal government.
“Most of that talk’s in the House, and I’m not even sure the state can do that,” he said.
A Senate committee is considering a state constitutional amendment to broaden the right to bear arms by specifying that it is “inalienable.”
An Oklahoma House Committee on Wednesday unanimously endorsed the “Oklahoma Firearms Freedom Act” that would exempt guns or ammunition made in the state from federal regulations, and several lawmakers have written to gun manufacturers, inviting them to Oklahoma. Another bill would bar any federal gun regulation in the state.
In Kansas, the House Federal and State Affairs Committee heard testimony in favor of a measure declaring that the federal government has no power to regulate firearms, ammunition or gun accessories manufactured and sold only in Kansas.
The same bill would make it a felony for an agent of the federal government to attempt to enforce a federal law, regulation or treaty restricting access to firearms, ammunition or accessories manufactured, sold and kept within Kansas. Also, the measure would limit the circumstances in which doctors could quiz their patients on whether they have guns in their homes. The proposed “Second Amendment Protection Act” heard Tuesday by the House committee has drawn little opposition so far.
In the Missouri House, a Democratic legislator’s proposal to ban the sale of assault weapons drew a less-than-measured response from two Republican lawmakers — one proposing a bill that criminalizes proposing gun control legislation and another posting a YouTube video showing a handgun firing repeatedly at a copy of the restrictive bill.
State Rep. Bill White, R-Joplin, said he has received a lot of calls from constituents about the assault weapons bill and has told constituents not to worry about it being approved.
“I’ve gotten more calls and emails on this than any two other things for as long as I’ve been up here,” he said Friday. “If it ever made it out of committee, it would just get beat up on the floor. No Republicans are supporting it, and the conservative Democrats don’t like it either.”
There have been no proposals for gun restrictions in the Oklahoma House and Rep. Larry Glenn, D-Miami, said he did not expect to see any this session.
Glenn said he personally had some concerns about background checks to ensure the mental health of the gun purchaser and said he believes the requirement should be extended to sales at gun shows.
“There should be more background checks,” said Glenn, a former Ottawa County undersheriff. “But I don’t think Oklahoma will stand for anything that limits the rights of gun owners.”
Among federal lawmakers from the region, all are citing the Second Amendment — including Democrat Claire McCaskill.
John Pusateri, spokesman for the senator, said McCaskill favors measures such as universal background checks.
“At the same time, Claire will continue to support and defend Missourians’ Second Amendment rights,” he said.
Sen. Roy Blunt has rejected the president’s calls for more gun controls, as has U.S. Rep. Billy Long.
While calling gun controls “the wrong approach,” Long said the issue deserves serious study to develop a strategy that will make Americans safer.
“The fact is the police are not always going to be able to respond in time to stop someone who is determined to kill. This is especially true in rural areas like much of Southwest Missouri, where big distances separate the farmhouse from the police station,” Long said. “It would be a step in the wrong direction to infringe on the right of the American people to defend themselves and their families. I can’t support any measure that would take us backward by violating the Second Amendment.”
Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri rank low in ratings given by The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The group in 2011 gave Missouri and Kansas scores of 4 each, and Oklahoma a 2 rating out of a possible 100 points on a scale rating laws and regulations to prevent gun violence. California got the highest rating, at 81, while Arizona, Alaska and Utah received 0 ratings.