JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — After a St. Louis high school shooting left a student and a teacher dead, what does Missouri’s top leader want done to prevent it from happening again?
Missouri is perceived by some to have some of the laxest gun laws in the country. Gov. Mike Parson said more mental health resources are needed, not more gun laws.
“It’s just really unfortunate that everyone wants to go to the political point of the guns when you have a tragedy like this,” Parson said.
Police say 19-year-old Orlando Harris was the gunman, who walked into Central Visual and Performing Arts (CVPA) High School Monday morning with an AR-15 and 600 rounds of ammunition. It was a tragic scene as students ran from the school as Harris opened fire inside. The two who were shot and killed were identified as 15-year-old Alexandria Bell and 61-year-old P.E. teacher Jean Kuczka. Six other students between the ages of 15 and 16 were wounded, three by gunfire. Another student fractured an ankle after jumping out a third-floor window to keep being shot, police said.
“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.”
Parson praised law enforcement’s quick response, saying it prevented the situation from being worse.
“The police department up there did an excellent job, the school system looks like they did exactly what they were supposed to do at this time, as much as they could to prevent a tragedy from even being worse than what it was,” Parson said.”
St. Louis Public Schools said the security officers inside the school did not have guns, a policy for the district.
“You should never be afraid to give security officers a weapon if they are truly trying to defend students or teachers,” Parson said. “If those officers would have been armed yesterday, this may have been a whole different turnout.”
A spokesperson for the district said they have a response team that is armed and were the first on the scene and the first to fire at the suspect during Monday’s incident.
Compared to the largest school district in the St. Louis area, the Rockwood School District, they put armed full-time school resource officers in its high schools and middle schools but not the elementary, according to the district’s chief communications officer.
Parson said after Monday’s shooting, he called the St. Louis mayor, the police chief and the school district’s superintendent to ask if any state resources were needed.
“It’s just unfortunate,” Parson said. “It’s a terrible, tragic event. I don’t even if the politics of it is going to solve anything at this point.”
Democratic lawmakers called on the General Assembly after the shooting to enact stricter gun laws. CVPA High School is in Sen. Karla May’s, D-St. Louis, district. In an interview Monday, she said it was “only a matter of time until something like this happened.”
““We should have been dealing with this way before it happened,” May said. “For it to happen somewhere else was a wake-up call to say listen, we really need to change the gun laws in Missouri.”
Parson said harder gun laws are not the solution.
“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 not the answer,” Parson said. “Trying to regulate guns, that doesn’t work, we know that. That’s the political argument and again, if you’re someone that’s mentally unstable, you don’t know what that reaction is going to be. You can pass all the laws you want for that, but if they aren’t abiding by the law, it’s not going to make any difference.”
Missourians at any age can open carry, but under federal law, a person must be 21 to purchase a handgun and 18 to buy a rifle. Under the federal Youth Handgun Safety Act, anyone under 18 is prohibited from owning a handgun except in limited circumstances. Local government can limit where those firearms are allowed. Background checks are also federally required if a gun is purchased from a licensed dealer.
Instead of passing more laws, Parson said the state should spend more on mental health solutions, and he wants judges and prosecutors involved.
“The reality of it is, the most important thing is what triggered what that young man to do what he did, and I’m telling you, the mental health side of that, I guarantee you, will be a bigger factor in this than he how he became in possession of the gun,” Parson said.
Harris was a graduate of CVPA and had no prior criminal history. While the exact motive has not yet been determined, police presented some documents Tuesday that may have hinted toward mental health struggles.
Some paperwork inside a car tied to Harris included this handwritten note:
“I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any family. I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never had a social life. I’ve been an isolated loner my entire life. This was the perfect storm for a mass shooter.”
“Mental health has got to be a part of stopping these things,” Parson said. “I would make a case that anybody that takes other people’s lives, there’s a mental health issue going on there because it’s not normal to do that.”
This Thursday, the governor is headed to St. Louis to meet with the police officers who responded to the scene. Next week he plans to meet with CVPA students, teachers and school administrators.
“My heart goes out to then, not only today but for the months to come, and I think we’ve all got to remember, their lives will change forever,” Parson said. “I just can’t imagine losing a teenage daughter, a teenage son to a violent act like this. A teacher doing what they do every day to take that risk and standing up for their students.”
After lawmakers repealed legislation back in 2016, anyone 19 and older can carry a concealed weapon without a permit and no training is required. If Missourians want, they can still apply for a concealed-carry permit, which requires a firearms training course and a background check. Last year, the governor signed the Second Amendment Preservation Act (SAPA) into law, which bars police officers from enforcing federal gun laws. If they do, they could be fined up to $50,000.
Dozens of agencies, including more than 60 police chiefs, spoke out in opposition to the law, saying it interferes with federal partners and the use of national databases and resources.
Behavioral Health Response encourages anyone who is in a crisis to call their lifeline at 988. If anyone wants to talk to someone or has questions about the organization, they can visit their Facebook page or contact them at 314-469-6644 or text “Be Heard” to 31658.