Missouri made headlines last month when Colonel Tim Fitch of the St. Louis County Police Department proposed arming local school officials in the wake of the devastating elementary school shooting in Connecticut. But State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal, a Democrat who represents University City, is taking a different approach -- with the belief that the answer is not more guns.
And she's directing her focus on parents in a proposal that is sure to spark heated debate this session. What is likely to be the most controversial part of her bill, full draft version below, is the push for a policy requiring all parents who own firearms to formally notify school officials.
Her legislation also creates stricter regulations aimed at promoting safe storage of firearms and better prevention of illegal gun possession.
"As a member of the University City School Board, my biggest fear is a student bringing a gun to school," says Chappelle-Nadal in a release sent out yesterday after she held a press conference at the Capitol to promote her bill. "We also have too many gang members running around with weapons and settling scores with bullets. It has to stop. That's why I included the negligent storage of a firearm provision in my legislation. If kids cannot get their hands on a gun, that gun will not end up on the street or in our schools. If you own a gun, please use a gun lock and store it in a locked gun safe, and never store ammunition in the same place as the guns."
If passed, Senate Bill 124 would criminalize several different kinds of parental neglect pertaining to guns. This includes "failing to stop illegal firearm possession, negligent storage of a firearm, and failure to notify a school of firearm ownership."
Under her proposal, school officials would know every student who lived in a household with a weapon -- if gun-owning parents take the policy seriously and comply.
And what happens if they don't?
Here's an excerpt from the legislation:
This act requires a parent or guardian to notify a school district, or the governing body of a private or charter school, that he or she owns a firearm within 30 days of enrolling the child in school or becoming the owner of a firearm.
The written notification only needs to include the names of the parent and any child attending the school and the fact that the parent owns a firearm....
Failure to notify the school under this act is an infraction, punishable by a fine of up to $100. If a person is found guilty of negligent storage of a firearm and has failed to notify the school of firearm ownership, the person must be fined $1,000 in addition to any other penalties authorized by law.
The proposal wold apply to any parents whose children attend public, private or charter schools.
Further, under her bill, parents or guardians of children under the age of 18 commit an offense by "recklessly storing or leaving a firearm in a manner that is likely to result in the child accessing the firearm" if a child does obtain access to the firearm and brings it to school, kills or injures another person or commits a crime with it.
The severity of the punishment depends on the violence that occurs. The offense would be a Class A misdemeanor unless the child kills or injures another person, in which case it would be a Class D felony.
In her announcement of the bill, Chappelle-Nadal seems to offer some preemptive response to her expected opponents -- those that oppose gun control measures and argue that law-abiding citizens should not face stricter restrictions.
Her press release ends with this statement:
Responsible gun owners have nothing to fear from my legislation, and nobody, at least nobody in Missouri, is talking about taking anyone's guns away. I simply want to make sure that children do not have easy access to guns, especially children in urban settings. I'm not talking about farm kids who learn to hunt with a rifle or a shotgun; I'm talking about gang members turning our cities into war zones or disturbed teenagers who think the only way to settle differences is to take a gun to school. There are reasonable things we can do as a society to reduce the incidences of gun violence without infringing on anybody's right to keep and bear arms.
Her office also notes that the legislation is much more limited than the comprehensive proposals under debate at the national level -- and argues that her legislation is specifically targeting gun violence in urban communities and schools.
She adds that, since August of last year, there have been more than a dozen incidents involving teenagers and guns in the Fourteenth Senate district alone.
Continue for a full draft of the bill and the entire news release.
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