JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – One year since the deadly school shooting at a St. Louis City high school and students and teachers are still waiting for lawmakers to strengthen the state’s gun laws.
Earlier this year, survivors of the tragic school shooting shared their stories, art and music inside the Capitol, remembering the student and teacher killed last October. The biggest reason for making the trip was their call to action; instead, many left disappointed.
“It’s infuriating, it’s exhausting, and it’s just sad,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said Tuesday. “The kids just really came home angry.”
A tragic scene at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in south St. Louis City as a gunman opened fire inside, killing sophomore Alexzandria Bell, 15, and beloved P.E. teacher Jean Kuczka, 61.
“I got a phone call from my own kid’s school, which is not far from CVPA, saying that they were under a lockdown and there was a shooting nearby,” Merideth said. “I quickly made a couple of calls that it was a CVPA, and then immediately had to try and check on the status of my niece, who is a teacher there.”
Police said the shooter had several high-capacity magazines and 600 rounds of ammunition when he reached campus but have not yet said how the gunman obtained the AR-style rifle. Missouri is one of the 31 states without a red flag law, which would allow for the temporary removal of a gun from someone who is at risk of harming themselves or others.
Merideth said the gunman tried to open the door of his niece’s classroom but kept moving down the hallway. The school is in his district, where four months after the shooting, Merideth helped more than 50 students come to the Capitol in February to make their voices heard.
“I’m only 17; I should be worried about moving off to college, worried about what I’ll be wearing to prom, worrying about who I’ll give my graduation tickets to, not how to make the voices of the dead heard,” CVPA student Bryanna Love said in February.
The students spent the day asking lawmakers to do something to curb gun violence.
“I shouldn’t be up here preaching to adults—adults—on how to do their job and how to protect kids,” CVPA student Jaiyana Stailworth said. “Imagine if that was your kid? Imagine if that was you?”
Merideth said many Republicans didn’t take the time back on that February day to visit with the CVPA students in the rotunda. Instead, the session ended in May without any movement on gun control legislation.
“Worse than doing nothing, it was as if the majority party, at least, just kind of turned their head,” Merideth said. “So often with these situations and these incidents, people just want to have their voices heard and in other states where this has happened, that’s how change has happened. The voices of kids.”
House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, disagreed on the last day of session in May with the idea that the General Assembly didn’t take action.
“We outlined that we wanted to attack crime, that we wanted to hold perpetrators of crime accountable,” Plocher said. “That is what we are doing. Guns don’t kill people; people kill people. There’s a mental health crisis. We’ve addressed some of that in our legislation this year.”
Two days after the shooting last October, Gov. Mike Parson said in an exclusive interview that more mental health resources are needed.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Parson said. “It’s a terrible, tragic event. I don’t know if the politics of it is going to solve anything at this point.”
Missouri is perceived by some to have some of the most lax gun laws in the country. Parson said stricter gun laws are not the answer.
“Bad people doing bad things are going to find ways to do those things,” Parson said. “You can make all the guns illegal that you want, but the bottom line is someone is going to go get one, and they’re not law-abiding citizens anyhow. When you go into some of the cities with the strictest gun laws, they have the highest homicide rates in the United States, so you know, that’s just not the answer.”
Merideth agrees that mental health needs to be part of the conversation, but it’s more than just that. He was one of the handful of lawmakers who filed legislation this past session to establish a red flag law.
“It’s one of the answers, but to suggest that our gun laws in this state aren’t part of the problem is itself a mental illness,” Merideth said. “The fact is we need common sense gun laws, and we also need mental health care.”
As to what the legislature has done in the past year, approve $50 million in school safety grants to be used by districts for security upgrades. According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), St. Louis Public School District has received $300,000.
“I’m sorry that we haven’t done more as a government to help address this problem and prevent it in the future,” Merideth said. “They [Republicans] see it as something they can brush off as a city violence problem and wash their hands of it. I think it may have to hit at home in a different community for it to make a difference.”
Also, in the budget this year, lawmakers approved $500,000 for administrative support at CVPA and $200,000 for art and music supplies.