Missouri "guns to kids" bill is just dumb from both sides of the debate

This story out of Missouri popped up in my Twitter feed yesterday and the subject immediately grabbed my attention. What’s this? The legislature in Missouri wants to start handing out guns to children without getting their parents’ permission first?

The phrase “making it legal to give guns to kids without parents’ permission” certainly sounds alarming. But that can’t be right, can it? I decided to dig into the story at The Hill to see what was going on.

The bill comes after Gov. Mike Parson (R) called lawmakers back for a special summer session on crime and asked the legislature to penalize criminals who unlawfully use firearms, then pass them off on children to avoid detection.

The legislation is the exact opposite of what Parson called for, according to The Associated Press. It is currently a misdemeanor crime to “recklessly” give a child a gun without their parents’ permission.

On Tuesday, the state House voted to toss out the existing law and only make it a felony to give firearms to minors if the intent is to avoid arrest or criminal investigation.

The only thing that seems obvious at this point is that this bill needs to be sent back to the shop for some retooling. There doesn’t seem to be anything evil going on here, but rather an attempt to beef up the state’s laws against gun crimes while ensuring that families teaching their children to safely shoot or take them hunting don’t get swept up in it.

The felony part of the bill makes sense, though proving the crime and enforcing the law might be tricky. They’re clearly targeting felons who use a firearm in the commission of a violent crime and then dump the weapon off on a minor to avoid detection. The minor would obviously face far less dire consequences in court on a possession charge than the presumably adult felon would for committing murder or other crimes involving the use of a firearm. That’s a laudable goal.

At the same time, handing a rifle to your son, daughter, niece or nephew for the purpose of providing safety training, do some target shooting or hunting rabbits is clearly not something the law would intend to thwart. But if the wording is constructed too loosely, I suppose it’s theoretically possible that someone could be charged with it under those circumstances if the law enforcement officer either had a grudge against them or was very confused. I still recall receiving my first rifle at the age of eleven and I’d been getting lessons from my father and my uncles for a few years before that. I can’t imagine a cop showing up and trying to haul them in over it.

But would any prosecutor actually entertain taking such a charge to court? It strikes me as unlikely in the extreme, particularly if the underage witness was available and willing to explain what had been going on. Still, if you’re going to go to all the trouble of calling a special session of the legislature just to pass a law like this, why not take the time to ensure you’ve gotten it right before sending it to the governor for their signature?

I’m going to chalk this one up as a self-inflicted wound on the part of the Missouri legislature (at least for now) but it’s far from the biggest blunder we’ve ever seen in the history of U.S. governance.