The Second Amendment comes first.
The message ricocheted around Missouri like stray munitions from a shaky marksman: Pray all you want, but you're not taking away our guns, even for the length of a church service.
Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have been placed on notice that they may no longer be a sanctuary from the gun lobby and its flock. The state House of Representatives has passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would remove houses of worship from the list of places where gun owners cannot pack heat.
For now, places of religious worship are regarded as off limits for concealed carry of firearms. They're on an exception list that includes police stations, sports arenas, prisons, courthouses and other government buildings, casinos, child-care facilities, amusement parks, airports, schools and colleges, and some bars.
But were the Senate and Governor Mike Parson to agree to this latest nonsense, state government would try to blow a hole into the First Amendment. It would seek to regulate places of religious worship as places of private property ownership.
Religious groups would be required by the government to post signs — meeting state specifications — were they to ban guns from their premises. There would be other rules as well.
So much for the separation of church and state. Brought to you, largely, by the same Republicans who have complained bitterly about public-health restrictions on houses of worship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Citing the separation of church and state.
St. Louis-area religious leaders expressed their indignation last week across denominational lines, as reported by St. Louis Public Radio. About a dozen leaders attended the event organized by Archbishop Mitchell Rozanski of the Archdiocese of St. Louis.
"We need to work against the violence that we see making headlines daily and not invite the very weapons that make those headlines into our places of worship," Rozanski said.
"We are going to stick to our guns and say, 'There should be no guns in a house of God,'" Rabbi Amy Feder, senior rabbi of Temple Israel and president of the St. Louis Rabbinical and Cantorial Association, said.
"Gun violence is the unspoken pandemic happening along with the other two pandemics of racism and COVID-19. As a follower of Jesus, my faith teaches me that places of worship are intended to be sacred ground to equip us to be peacemakers and peace casters," Bishop Deon Johnson of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri said.
It's certainly possible that the faith leaders will prevail upon cooler heads in the Missouri Senate to undo this latest round of gunner madness. But even if that happens, the affront to houses of worship is just one part of a larger bill with gun-law changes, only a few of which make any sense at all.
Nothing good will come of this. In the real world, it's unlikely that any lives will be saved. It's far more likely, should some Wild West shootout erupt on a MetroLink train or MetroBus, that random tragedy would follow. It makes no sense from the standpoint of public policy. But it makes plenty of sense from the standpoint of public opinion. It could survive.
There's another provision that's a real doozy. After declaring that keeping and bearing arms is a "fundamental right" — as if we hadn't heard — the bill launches into a diatribe about how "all firearm businesses shall be deemed essential businesses."
The language is darkly comedic:
"The general assembly hereby occupies and preempts the entire field of legislation" and "any existing or future orders, ordinances, or regulations that would prohibit, restrict, or reduce the operation of a firearm business are hereby, and shall be, null and void."
That's right. "Any business engaged in the manufacturing, distributing, selling, or training, for the use of firearms or ammunition, (including) shooting ranges" cannot be regulated or restricted in any way by any government in Missouri. Not now, not never. Not even a little bit.
Get the point? The way this law is worded, they probably could sell drugs to underage kids in a gun store and get away with it. They could stay open for Jell-O orgies 24 hours a day during a pandemic: Emergencies are specifically excluded as a reason to regulate these essential businesses.
Enjoy your freedom, boys.
Now, so as not to seem too cynical, let us note there are some changes in the new gun laws that are just fine.
One reportedly was the original reason that Rep. Rodger Reedy, R-Windsor, introduced the measure. It would allow people to shoot firearms from a stationary motor vehicle "to protect livestock from predatory wildlife or dogs that are killing, wounding or chasing livestock." (That's not allowed now because you can't shoot out of a car or truck.)
From our metropolitan perspective, "Why not?" This is a perfect example of how the needs of rural and urban Missouri are divergent. There's no need to project "one size fits all" gun laws on each other. If only rural folk felt the same respect for urban folk in this regard.
Another measure makes sense, too, which would be lowering the age for concealed-carry permits from nineteen to eighteen. If the state's going to have these, why shouldn't it allow eighteen-year-olds who can vote and serve in the military to carry guns along with everyone else?
A third fine measure would affect larger cities directly. But this one is truly illuminating as to how screwed up the state of Missouri has become regarding its guns. On its face, this one seems so easy: It's called Blair's Law, named in memory of little Blair Shanahan Lane, who tragically died at the age of eleven in Kansas City during a Fourth of July celebration.
Blair had just lit her sparkler when she was killed by a stray bullet fired in celebration of the holiday by some random moron. He did end up pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served eighteen months in prison. But that's only because she died and he was identified as her inadvertent killer.
Get this: It's still not a crime to fire a gun in celebration indiscriminately throughout Missouri. So you'd think passing a measure to outlaw that horrible practice would be a piece of cake, right? Think again.
Blair died in 2011. She'd be 21 this year. And even though legislators have been trying to pass this simple measure that no rational person could possibly object to — simply making it a crime to fire a gun indiscriminately in a municipal area — this has been too heavy a lift for nearly a decade.
The latest incarnation of Blair's Law would only carry a Class A misdemeanor punishment for indiscriminately discharging a weapon in a city. Not even a felony on the first offense.
And they still might not get it over the finish line this time, a full decade after this poor girl lost her life. If Blair's Law were to squeak through, the legislators would probably have enough self-unawareness to celebrate their achievement as if they had acted promptly. Some moron would start shooting off his gun to mark the occasion.
And the good folks of Missouri could stream to the houses of worship to pray for common sense to descend upon the state. Their guns close at hand.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).