JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – As the investigation continues into Monday’s school shooting in St. Louis and how the gunman reacquired a weapon used in it, St. Louis police say officers lacked the authority to temporarily seize the gun because the state of Missouri does not have a red flag law in place.
A 19-year-old gunman killed two people Monday morning in a shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School. Police later shot and killed the gunman, who hurt several others in the incident.
On Oct. 15, the family of the gunman, identified as Orlando Harris, reported to police that he had acquired an AR-15-style rifle from a private seller after an FBI background check stopped him from buying a weapon from a licensed dealer earlier in October.
The family hoped officers would either seize the weapon or transfer it elsewhere. The gun ended up with a third party, then eventually ended up back in Harris’ hands. Police could not take possession of the weapon at the time due to Missouri’s lack of a red flag law.
“There is no existing law which would have prevented the private sale between the original purchaser and the suspect in this case,” said the St. Louis Police Department in a statement Wednesday.
Following Monday’s shooting, FOX 2 has confirmed that two Missouri lawmakers are working on legislation that could possibly change that.
Missouri State Rep. Ian Mackey (D – 87th District) first pushed for such legislation around two years ago. He introduced HB 126 ahead of the 2021 legislative session, which called to establish extreme-risk protection orders, enable police to issue warrants for gun seizures and ban domestic violence offenders from owning a firearm. Two years ago, the bill was unable to make it past a general laws committee.
Rep. Mackey is preparing to refile legislation with near-identical language in December.
“Police in St. Louis have been pretty clear that this would have prevented the tragedy,” said Mackey in a phone interview with FOX 2. “When they were called to the house, they really wanted to be able to take that gun, and they just couldn’t do it. … I think this is the clearest instance of lives that could have been saved with legislation in place.”
Mackey says he has talked with many Missouri legislators in recent days and believes his legislation could have bi-partisan backing. He says he is open to conversations and possible amendments if it leads to more support.
“From my perspective, there’s plenty of due process involved,” said Mackey. “When someone is experiencing a mental illness or some period in their life, where the mental state is not in a healthy place, they shouldn’t have access to guns during that time. I think that’s a reasonable common sense approach.”
Mackey hopes gun control is one of the first topics discussed in Missouri’s next legislative session come January, regardless if it’s over his bill or one from another political party.
“As long as it does something to prevent another tragedy like [the CVPA shooting],” said Mackey. “I think this is something that needs to be addressed right away during session. … We’ve received testimony from officers from families to understand the impact of this and how it can be stopped in the future and hopefully move some legislation forward.”
He isn’t the only lawmaker planning to file gun control legislation for Missouri either. State Sen. Doug Beck announced Friday he will also file legislation next session in an effort for a red flag law in Missouri.
“Right now, Missouri is wrestling with a gut-wrenching, but simple truth: If Missouri had a Red Flag Law, a child and a teacher would still be alive,” said Sen. Beck via a news release. “The need for a Red Flag Law in Missouri has never been clearer. I am calling on legislators who previously opposed this legislation to search their hearts and change their minds before any more children are killed in our state.”
Beck says his proposed legislation would enable courts to issue “an extreme risk order of protection with the preponderance of evidence indicates that an individual poses an extreme risk to him or herself or others by their possession or control of firearms.” Such individuals would also be required to surrender weapons in their possession.
One potential obstacle either of these bills could face would be the support of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who has expressed his opposition to red flag laws throughout the past week. Just last year, Parson also signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act into law, which could lead to $50,000 fines for police departments if they navigate around state law to retrieve firearms.
“We try to make it a gun issue every time [after a mass shooting], and it’s not the gun issue,” said Parson earlier this week. “If you look where mass shootings occur, the vast majority of them across the United States or where the violent crime is, they mostly are the urban areas that have some of the strictest gun laws.”
The governor prefers a push in mental health resources instead.
“What triggered that young man to do what he did, I’m telling you, the mental health side of that, I guarantee you, will be a bigger factor in this than [how] he became in possession of the gun,” said Parson.
Parson visited St. Louis police officers, in addition to some CVPA students and staff, just days after the shooting. Despite his possible opposition to upcoming legislation, he did note that people with mental health illnesses should not have weapons.
“That’s a separate issue in the state of Missouri that we look at, whether somebody has mental health issues or not,” said Parson. “I don’t think there’s any question, [for] people [that] have mental health issues, you can take their weapon.”
Mackey, Beck and others can prefile legislation for Missouri’s 2023 legislative session as soon as Dec. 1.
According to Nexstar affiliate WFLA, nineteen states and Washington D.C. currently have red flag laws in place. That includes neighboring state Illinois and some Republican-governed states like Florida.
U.S. president Joe Biden also signed a gun control measure in June to toughen background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keep firearms from more domestic violence offenders and try to help more states put red flag laws in place.