Missouri Gun Laws Have Not Been Changed Since a St. Louis High School Shooting Last Year

St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Megan Green was at home in Tower Grove South the morning of October 24, 2022, when her phone started began receiving multiple alerts and calls about a nearby a school shooting.

17-year-old Veronica Russell (center), a student at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, leads hundreds marching for better gun legislation in November 2022, outside of the South St. Louis school where the incident took place.

Megan Green, current President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen, has seen the impact of gun violence in the hardcore streets of St. Louis first hand.

Green was an alderwoman at the time; she was at home in Tower Grove South the morning of October 24, 2022, when her phone started began receiving multiple alerts and calls about a nearby a school shooting.

“From constituents to people at City Hall …hitting me up to say, ‘Hey, this is happening,’” she remembered.

A 19-year-old had forced his way into the campus at Arsenal and Kingshighway shared by two St. Louis area magnet high schools — Central Visual and Performing Arts and Collegiate School of Medicine and Bioscience — and the proceeded to open fire at innocents within that enclave with his rifle.

The shooting left two fatalities: Alexandria Bell, a 15-year-old sophomore at CVPA, and Ms. Jean Kuczka, CPVA’s health and physical education teacher, and the coach of Collegiate’s cross-country team. 

Several others were injured, and the attack left hundreds of students, teachers and staff at both schools badly shaken and traumatized.

Green, STL Mayor Tishaura Jones and other area elected officials saw the shooting as a tragic but inevitable outcome, given the lack of meaningful gun restrictions in Missouri and the U.S. as a whole.

“Our children shouldn’t have to experience this,” Jones stated in a briefing not long after the shooting. “They shouldn’t have to go through active shooter drills in case something happens. And unfortunately, that happened today.”

As grim as the aftermath of the shootings was, a series of coincidences actually helped limit the carnage: (1) the schools are less than a mile from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s South Patrol headquarters, (2) other police officers were attending a funeral in the area, (3) the St. Louis Metro SWAT team was already assembled and undergoing a training exercise, which allowed them to respond quickly, and (3) one of the SLPS security officers on duty that day was armed. The shooter, a former CVPA student, was located, shot and killed less than 10 minutes after he showed up. 

As the investigation progressed, however, it became clear that the entire tragedy might have been prevented.

The shooter’s family knew he had mental health issues, said Michael Sack, the interim police chief at the time; he added that they regularly monitored his mail and checked his room, as he had been committed in the past for inpatient treatment. “Whenever they noticed him stepping out of line or going out of turn they always worked to get him back on his medication, back on therapy, whatever he needed,” Sack said.

Photos of student Alexzandria Bell and physical education teacher Jean Kuczka are displayed during an Oct. 26, 2022 vigil outside Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in South St. Louis city.

And when family members became aware he had a gun — the same one later used in the shooting — they called police.

“The mother wanted it out of the house,” Sack said. But, Missouri doesn’t have a so-called red flag law — a way for police to seize firearms from people who could be a threat to themselves or others. 

The most they could do was transfer the gun to an adult who could legally have it. “I’ve got to give credit to the family. They made every effort that they felt that they reasonably could,” Sack said. “And I think that’s why the mother is so heartbroken for the families that paid for his episode.”

Students demand action

Teachers and students from CVPA traveled to Jefferson City in February, their goal having been to speak with lawmakers about how the shooting changed their lives, and also what the students wanted them to do about it.

“I’m angry,” said student April Shepard. “I might not visibly show it. But every time I see somebody walk past me, a legislator, somebody who can change it but refuses to, I get upset. My friend shouldn’t have to jump out of a window so they can live to see another day.”

For many other students, including Jaiyana Stallworth, passing a red flag law was something they wanted to see happen. “If there’s any kind of history there, like any sort of just alarm going off, that maybe you can’t handle the responsibility, you don’t get the responsibility,” Stallworth said. “Kind of like, if you can’t have a puppy, you shouldn’t have a puppy, except it’s a gun.”

State Rep. Peter Merideth (D-St. Louis), whose district includes both schools, acted immediately. He filed the first bill for the 2023 session to help establish a red flag law. “I found the same one that the Republican legislature in Florida did. So it’s pretty conservative, gives a lot of due process to make sure a person, that if the claims aren’t justified, they can get their guns back,” Merideth said.

Merideth said he believed it was his responsibility to file that bill and other legislation centered on gun control. “As {the people’s} representative, it’s my job to be their voice, as much as I’m capable of being. And so I’m doing my best to do that. But I wish it were more effective,” Merideth said.

In addition to the red flag law, Merideth filed other gun control legislation, including one establishing universal background checks and raising the legal age to purchase and possess a firearm to 21.

In the Republican-led House of Representatives, however, Merideth’s bills didn’t even get a hearing; no bill establishing gun control in the state moved forward in the previous session, in either chamber.

Merideth’s colleague, Sen. Karla May (D-St. Louis), also filed a red flag law. N either bill got a hearing.

“My colleagues, we were trying to at least get the bill heard, in order for students to be heard. Because anytime you have trauma, the best medicine for that trauma is to be heard,” May said. “And they didn’t even have the decency to allow a bill to have a hearing.”

As to what the legislature has done in response to the shooting, lawmakers approved Gov. Mike Parson’s budget item of $50 million for school safety grants. But as far as what else the state can do in response to the shooting, Parson was not supportive of a red flag law. “I think the red flag law, it’s more of a political statement and that’s what drives everybody apart, when you start going down those roads,” Parson said in January.

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher )R-Des Peres), bristled at the idea that the legislature didn’t take action following the shooting. “We outlined that we wanted to attack crime, that we want to hold the perpetrators of crime accountable. This is what we’re doing,” Plocher said. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. There’s a mental health crisis, we’ve addressed some of that and our legislation this year,”

Rep. Merideth stated he is tired of Republicans shifting the conversation on gun violence. “You point to the problem. The problem is obviously gun violence. OK, so let’s address the guns,” Merideth said. “Nope, we can’t do guns. It’s a mental health issue. OK, fine. We can agree, let’s address mental health. And they do nothing. The fact is, they’re just making excuses.”

Local government tries to fill the gap

The St. Louis school district applied for a share of the safety funding, which was targeted at ‘physical security upgrades and associated technologies, bleeding control kits, and automated external defibrillators.’ The district received $300,000 to put security film on somefirst-floor windows.

The district also boosted its security budget by $2.5 million for video surveillance and intrusion alarms and expanded its various training on crisis prevention and active shooters.

Broader policy action at the state level seems unlikely, especially with the 2024 election nearing, local officials are trying to step in using their limited power.

Under Missouri law, the state has total authority over gun regulations, except in some narrow instances. Green and her colleagues at the Board of Aldermen are considering a number of bills they believe fit into those loopholes, like a ban on machine guns and certain types of ammunition, or on the sale or transfer of guns to someone under age 18. The bills have the support of Mayor Jones.

“He had a military-grade weapon,” Jones said of the shooter. “And if that were prohibited by local law, then we can hopefully prohibit other military grade weapons on our streets.”

But the maximum punishment for a violation of the ordinances will be a $500 fine and 90 days in jail, or a fine and community service for juveniles. And most of the other bills are meant to keep guns out of the hands of minors — which wouldn’t have applied to the shooter.

Aldermen have also introduced a series of regulations that would take effect if local governments regain the right to pass their own gun laws. But a local red flag law cannot be among them, Green said. “One of the complications is that our municipal court system would not be authorized to enforce such a law or enforce penalties around such a law,” she said.

Byron Clemens, a spokesman for American Federation of Teachers Local 420 representing teachers and staff in the district, wants the support of the legislation available before another tragedy happens.

“We’ve long advocated for having a counselor in every school, a social worker in every school, and a nurse in every school,” he said.

There’s no way to know whether that could have prevented the tragedy that occurred, Clemens said, but making additional resources available to students and families may help.

The shooting at the high schools happened on Clemens’ birthday, which means a day of celebration will always be colored by sadness going forward. But despite the darkness, he said, some good emerged.

“We were focused like a laser for a short period of time on the surrounding issues,” he said. “But we need to continue to do it and keep the focus on trying to protect children and families from gun violence.”



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