National Politics

Recent Missouri editorials

The Jefferson City News-Tribune, Aug. 9

No good reason to close records

Auditor Nicole Galloway is trying, unsuccessfully so far, to get the state Attorney General's Office to weigh in on whether a government entity should be able to hide certain information from the public.

Specifically, can public agencies redact information related to individuals conducting business with, lobbying or attempting to influence that government entity?

In early May, Galloway's office requested a legal opinion on the issue from state Attorney General Eric Schmitt. On Wednesday, she publicly scolded Schmitt's office for not getting back with her on the issue within 90 days, which it had pledged to do.

Galloway believes governmental agencies should not be allowed to hide the information in question.

"The Attorney General is charged with enforcing the Sunshine Law," she said in a statement. "I would expect that he would give an opinion as to whether it is appropriate to redact the information of those attempting to conduct business with or lobby a government entity. Missourians deserve to know who is influencing their government."

Why, you ask, is the auditor asking the question? Because in Gov. Mike Parson's office, attorneys have cited First Amendment freedom of speech as a reason to hide the identities of private residents with which the office has been in contact.

His office has said disclosure of such information may have a chilling effect on individuals contacting their government, and that the office has redacted such information in the past without citing the First Amendment, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has reported.

Meanwhile, keep in mind the politics of the situation. Galloway is the only Democrat who holds a statewide office and is the expected Democrat challenger to Parson when he seeks a full term to the office next year. This could be an issue on the campaign — and a way to force Schmitt to go on record on the issue.

Galloway, Parson, Schmitt and others might care about the politics of the situation. We don't.

What's right is right, and regardless of a pending opinion from the AG's office, we're glad to weigh in with ours: Government records are created with our money and our blessing. They should be open.

Yes, there are exceptions, and they're outlined in the state's Sunshine Law. But generally, anyone in contact with a governmental agency shouldn't be able to hide their business with that agency.

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The Joplin Globe, Aug. 9

Guns in school are not an answer

"Where economically feasible and embraced by local governance, schools should have the benefit of an armed school resource officer or an armed school protection officer in every school to provide an immediate response in the event of an active shooter situation."

— Governor's School Safety Task Force report

Though a state school safety panel made a number of worthwhile findings, the recommendation of an armed school resource officer or school protection officer in schools won't make students safer.

We expected the recommendation, and the panel led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe notably suggested the decision be left to local school boards. For school resource officer, read trained security guard or police officer. Many schools can't afford the trained officers. It would cost more than $35 million to put a trained armed officer in every Missouri school. The Legislature has set aside $300,000 for school safety initiatives. The alternative for most is a school protection officer — an armed teacher or staff member. Schools can even use federal education funds to buy the weapon.

The good guy with a gun narrative is a favorite, but the idea doesn't hold up to even casual scrutiny. There was an armed security officer at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, 20 years ago when two students shot to death 13 people, wounded 21 then killed themselves. An armed security officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, failed to stop the slaying of 17 students and staff on Valentine's Day 2018.

Armed teachers have discharged weapons when there was no armed threat. Further, studies show armed civilians are likely to freeze when facing a shooter. Do you really believe there were no armed civilians in that El Paso, Texas, Walmart?

That is not to deny there are also examples of quick action by law enforcers to halt attackers. There are also examples of action by armed — or more often unarmed — civilians to stop shooters or intervene to reduce the loss of life in attacks.

Since Columbine, school security has increased dramatically. Yet attacks in schools continue unabated. Armed teachers and active shooter drills are little more than security theater — a show designed to assuage the public's fears. Stopping mass attacks takes more than good security. The problem of school shootings cannot be separated from other high-profile mass attacks across our nation.

The report finds our schools are actually pretty safe places. The primary focus of our schools should be education, and diverting funds from education to arm teachers is a bad idea. Many of the other recommendations in the report are more worthy of consideration.

The panel recommends the state provide standards for conducting drills and exercises. The report finds that different state departments, partner programs and organizations offer conflicting advice. A best-practices guide could help. Those recommendations will do more to promote school safety without turning our schools into armed camps.

One of the best ways to keep schools safe is to identify threats, most of which will come from within the school. Better reporting, mental health evaluations and counseling will stop many would-be attackers.

Turning our schools into armed camps isn't the answer. We must become willing to tackle the gun violence in our broader culture.

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The Kansas City Star, Aug. 9

Trump backs this idea to reduce gun violence. Why won't Missouri and Kansas take action?

Congress, which is generally incapable of accomplishing much of anything, is inching toward a consensus on at least one commonsense remedy for gun violence: state-based "red flag" laws.

Red flag statutes, also known as extreme risk protection orders, allow authorities to temporarily seize firearms from persons considered imminent threats, either to themselves or other people. A judge has to grant the order.

President Donald Trump likes the idea. "We must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms," he said Monday after mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. "That is why I have called for red flag laws."

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, endorsed the idea. "State red flag laws will provide the tools for law enforcement to do something about many of these situations before it's too late," he said.

Graham's statement is an admission that Congress can't pass a federal red flag law. Instead, Washington is thinking about giving grants to the states to pass their own statutes or withholding federal funds from states that don't.

Today, 17 states have some version of a red flag law. Missouri and Kansas aren't among them.

That must change next year, no matter what Congress does. Legislators in both states should pass laws enabling authorities to intervene when clear evidence suggests someone is about to engage in violent behavior.

Missouri state Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis County Democrat, offered a red flag bill earlier this year. "We're not trying to take people's guns away from them for the long haul," she said Wednesday. "We're trying to keep them safe."

She plans to offer a similar bill next year. Pro-gun activists won't be happy.

"A 'red flag gun seizure' would allow virtually anyone who doesn't like you to be able to make up a bogus complaint, allowing a liberal judge to order your firearms to be confiscated," claimed Aaron Dorr of the Missouri Firearms Coalition.

Moriah Day of the Kansas State Rifle Association agrees. "The Second Amendment applies even when someone is going through a tough time, so suffering from depression alone should not disqualify someone from possessing a firearm," he told The Star's Editorial Board.

Some Kansas lawmakers are frustrated. "We have red flag ... legislation sitting in committee," said Kansas state Sen. Dinah Sykes, a Democrat. "I am not optimistic that anything will pass."

That would be a dangerous mistake. We're confident that judges can fairly decide if guns should be seized in true crisis situations and that a realistic system of appeal can be established.

And what's the alternative? If someone privately threatens to shoot up a school or a shopping mall — or murder a spouse, or children — must friends and family step aside and wait until he or she actually pulls the trigger? No.

Red flag laws are particularly effective in preventing gun suicides, experts believe. That's another reason to pursue these measures.

Red flag laws won't stop every shooting. Policymakers must pursue an all-of-the-above approach to reducing gun violence.

But the slaughters in Texas and Ohio are yet another reminder that there are too many weapons in the hands of killers. Red flag laws with bipartisan backing in Kansas and Missouri could help address that tragic reality and make our states safer.

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