After witnessing a deadly mass shooting, lawmakers want to take action on gun control

Kansas and Missouri gun laws on display after fatal Super Bowl parade shooting

by Blaise MesaJosh Merchant and Meg Cunningham


  • In both Missouri and Kansas, state laws restrict how cities and counties implement their own gun control regulations.
  • Some local politicians are determined to take action on gun control despite state-level restrictions.
  • Polls say a significant portion of the population supports measures such as age restrictions for gun purchases and background checks.

It’s possible to imagine Kansas City — anguished by chronic gun violence and freshly angered by Wednesday’s nightmarish Super Bowl rally — clamping down on guns.

If only it could.

State lawmakers and the governor of Missouri see guns more as a tool of self-defense than as the source of carnage. They put laws in place that bar Kansas City, Jackson County or anywhere else in the state from imposing local gun control.

Likewise, Kansas suburbs would find their hands similarly tied when it comes to placing tighter local limits on firearms.

But some local politicians appear determined to try anyway, pushing for local action even if it means a possibly doomed battle to try to overcome state restrictions on what gun restrictions a city or county can impose within its borders.

“Give me the biggest, baddest, toughest common-sense gun reform options that we have,” said Jackson County Legislator Manny Abarca IV. “We’ll deal with preemption” — the state ban on local restrictions — “later.” 

In Missouri, you don’t need a permit to buy or carry a gun. You don’t need a permit to carry a concealed weapon (with a few exceptions for certain locations). The state doesn’t allow  “recklessly” selling or lending a gun to anyone under 18 without the consent of the child’s parent or guardian. 

In Kansas, anyone over 21 can carry a concealed weapon without a license. People under 21 get a standard concealed-carry license while people under 18 get a provisional license. There is no minimum age to get a gun and no background checks are required. 

Missouri gun laws block cities from passing their own restrictions

Missouri, Kansas and 43 other states have preemption laws that bar cities from passing local gun restrictions. 

Both Kansas and Missouri have Republican-controlled legislatures that regularly reject gun control bills. 

“Missouri’s preemption law is extraordinarily broad,” said Alison Shih, senior counsel at Everytown for Gun Safety. “Missouri has tied the hands of local governments from putting in place proactive measures to prevent exactly this kind of tragedy from happening.” 

Local governments can pass measures related to where someone can shoot a gun inside a city’s limits or regulating open carry of firearms for those who do not have a permit for a concealed weapon. Otherwise, local measures must match state firearms laws. The Missouri law also prevents cities from suing gun or ammunition manufacturers.  

But local ordinances have shown, at best, to make a marginal difference in gun violence.

Chicago, for example, sits next to Indiana, a Republican-led state with weaker gun laws. Illinois requires more permits and background checks while Indiana does not. 

Chicago sued an Indiana-based gun shop in 2021 because so many weapons it sold ended up as evidence in Chicago-based crimes.

A 2017 Gun Trace report linked Westforth Sports Inc., the gun dealer the city sued, to 2.3% of the guns recovered in Chicago gun crimes. Three Indiana gun dealers and seven neighboring cities sold over 20% of the guns recovered in gun crimes between 2013 and 2016.

That’s why national gun control groups see more promise in federal legislation. But Congress has only proved slightly more willing to adopt national gun restrictions than Republican-controlled state legislatures. 

Federal law goes further than Missouri’s statute, but the state’s “Second Amendment Preservation Act,” passed in 2021, bans local and state law enforcement from helping to enforce a federal gun law. It also subjects law enforcement officers to fines up to $50,000 if they enforce it. Courts have ruled the law unconstitutional, but state officials have appealed that decision, making Missouri’s enforcement of federal regulations murky. 

Jackson County wants to push the limits of Missouri gun laws

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen passed a law last summer that regulates open carry of guns — but it came with concessions.

The ordinance takes advantage of one loophole in Missouri’s preemption law, prohibiting open carry by anyone who doesn’t have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Police can temporarily take a gun — and check to see if it’s been linked to a crime — from someone who’s carrying a firearm without a permit.

“It essentially gets the gun off the street at the moment,” St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer said.

Kansas City has a similar law on the books from 2014, but it is unclear if the city is enforcing it. 

St. Louis also passed a ban on the open carrying of a weapon by anyone other than law enforcement. But that ordinance cannot be enforced without an initiative petition vote or change to state law. 

One initiative petition effort to allow cities to pass their own gun ordinances is on hold

Kansas City Council member Andrea Bough said she feels an urgency to do whatever the council has the power to do to prevent gun violence, within the confines of preemption law.

“I’m racking my brain to find ways that we can address this that isn’t the regulation of guns,” she said. “Yesterday, the whole world was watching. But people are dying on our streets every day, and it’s because of gun violence.”

Members of the Jackson County Legislature want to pass gun controls after the mass shooting on Wednesday, but most gun restrictions likely pose a violation of state law that would bring a court battle.  

The county’s governing body is ready to pick that fight.

“I would love a court of law to challenge, particularly in this state,” Abarca said. “We’ll take it all the way up.”

Across the state line, the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas, has no plans to introduce gun control legislation this week, according to Commissioner Melissa Bynum.

Missouri and Kansas gun control views 

It isn’t clear how the parade would have been different if Kansas City outlawed, for instance, the carrying of a concealed firearm. Searches of a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people would have made the event nearly impossible. 

So even with a city ordinance — at the junction of two states with gun laws lacking significant age or registration requirements for gun possession — it would prove nearly impossible to keep the guns away.

Despite opposition from lawmakers to gun restrictions, polling shows that Missourians broadly support stronger age limits. 

February 2023 poll from St. Louis University and YouGov found that 69% of Missourians favor banning gun purchases by people under 21, including 59% of Republicans. A majority — 79% — of Missourians also support criminal background checks for all gun purchases, including 73% of Republicans.