COLUMBIA — Missouri lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that would legally allow people to give firearms to children without their parents' permission after the governor had initially sought to increase the penalty for the crime.
"Recklessly" giving guns to minors without parents' permission is currently a misdemeanor offense under Missouri law. But the state House in a voice vote Monday advanced a bill that would ax the crime.
Lawmakers revisited the policy after Republican Gov. Mike Parson asked them to ramp up the penalties for giving firearms to minors from a misdemeanor to a felony offense during a special session to address violence in the state's cities.
Parson has said the aim of the proposed gun policy change is to crack down on criminals who use firearms unlawfully then hand them over to minors to avoid being caught with them by police.
But Republican lawmakers shifted gears after reexamining current law, which some said would allow grandparents or other family members to be charged with a misdemeanor for taking children hunting without their parents' permission.
The latest version of the bill would end the misdemeanor crime of giving guns to minors without parents' permission but would make it a felony to give firearms to children to avoid felony arrest or criminal investigation.
Republican St. Louis-area Rep. Dean Plocher said the change would protect good-faith actors "so that those that are trying to help their grandson go hunting or something like that are not going to be wantonly charged with a crime."
St. Louis Democratic Rep. Peter Merideth said the change does "the opposite of what the governor called us here to do."
He tried to amend the bill to keep the current misdemeanor crime for recklessly giving guns to children without permission, but his amendment was shot down 94-41.
"We're making it easier for people to let kids play with guns without the consent of parents," Merideth said.
The bill needs another vote of approval to head to the state Senate.
Also Monday, House members advanced bills to strengthen witness protection programs and to allow St. Louis police and first-responders to live outside the city, which advocates argue will improve police recruitment.
A contested bill Parson wants would allow the state attorney general to intervene in homicide cases in St. Louis has not advanced.
The measure was perceived by many as an effort to take power away from Democratic St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who came under fire from President Donald Trump and other high-ranking Republicans for criminally charging Mark and Patricia McCloskey for waving guns during a Black Lives Matter protest outside their home.
Even in the Republican-led Missouri Legislature, Parson's request to give the state prosecuting authority in St. Louis prompted backlash.