Our View

A special session of the Missouri General Assembly convened on Tuesday, called by Gov. Mike Parson to take action on violent crime. While violent crime is an important issue facing Missouri’s largest cities, it isn’t the most important issue facing our state.

Right now, coronavirus is raging in our state. There are clear steps available to slow the spread that the governor has failed to take.

Don’t misunderstand, Missouri has one of the highest rates of gun violence in the nation and shootings have increased rapidly since 2014. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state’s firearms death rate is 21.5 per every 100,000. Of that, more die by suicide than by homicide, but a lot of the slayings involve young people. Something does need to be done.

About 1,325 people are likely to die by gunshot in Missouri this year. Yet seven months into 2020, we have had more than 1,200 COVID-19 deaths and we are setting record after record for the spread of the disease.

Earlier this week, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, recommended governors in several states that are seeing rising COVID-19 cases mandate mask wearing in public. She specifically singled out Missouri.

The problem with violence is not new. It has been talked about repeatedly in the Legislature, but action has been sparse and unimpressive. The package of proposals for this session would boost penalties for young people who use guns and adults who help them obtain guns, along with measures to boost policing. Who knows if the approach will accomplish what is hoped?

We do know that measures to curb the spread of coronavirus work. Hand-washing, social distancing and masks work. The coronavirus pandemic requires the governor’s attention, but he is looking elsewhere in this election year. At a minimum, Parson should act to require the wearing of cloth masks in enclosed spaces statewide.

Special sessions are too common for the Missouri General Assembly and too often seem more political theater to highlight a hot-button issue than an effective path to positive change.

They cost too much to be used every year, as they have been in recent years, ranging from around $140,000 to $160,000, often for things that might have been addressed in the regular session.

Again, impose a statewide mask mandate, and let’s hold lawmakers and the governor responsible for how they handle our state’s business.