A Metro security guard checks passes and tickets at the Fairview Heights MetroLink station.DERIK HOLTMANN
Pieces of legislation being considered in the Missouri Legislature could make traveling on public transportation across the Mississippi River a bit complicated.
Three St. Charles County state legislators are pushing measures that call for allowing people to conceal carry guns on public transportation in Missouri, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch.
However, conceal carry on public transportation is not allowed in Illinois, and Illinois also does not recognize conceal carry gun permits from other states, even though Missouri recognizes Illinois’ permits.
The legislation was proposed amid the ongoing debate of security on the MetroLink system.
Taulby Roach, the president and CEO of Bi-State Development, which owns and operates MetroLink and the MetroBus system, said the agency is against the legislation.
“Our position is against it simply because the reality of what a transit environment is that conceal carry creates more of a security problem than an enhancement, and we believe it simply elevates the risk in a very confined space where we have a lot of the general public assembled at one time,” Roach said.
Roach said adding concealed carry on public transportation in Missouri, when it’s not allowed in Illinois, would make security complicated.
“One of the ways to coordinate and make security effective is that all of our police assets and all of our metro security assets know what the common law and expectations of behavior are from one end of the system to the next,” Roach said.
“And whenever there is a layer of complication, it makes our job a little more difficult — and I think our job is hard enough. I respect that our guys are out there every day doing the best they can and as president and CEO of Bi-State, I’m going to do my best to back them up and provide them whatever support that I can. I would like to not have an added layer of difficulty added to their job.”
Police do seize guns from riders on MetroLink.
St. Louis County police seized 54 guns in 2017 and 87 guns in 2018, according to the department’s Bureau of Transit Police.
The St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department seized nine guns in 2017 and two guns in 2018.
“This doesn’t necessarily mean there are more or less guns on the system,” said Lt. Michael Hundelt, who oversees the Sheriff’s Department’s MetroLink patrols. “Numbers can be very deceiving and can be interpreted in many different ways.”
Numbers from the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department weren’t immediately available.
If the legislation is passed and was signed into law, what would happen when riders with concealed carried weapons crossed the river from Missouri into Illinois?
By the letter of the law, if a rider was carrying a gun, they would have to get off the eastbound train before crossing the Mississippi River, remove their gun, and store it some place secure, in order to continue on the train into Illinois.
St. Clair County Sheriff Richard Watson said there could be confusion, as when concealed carry was allowed in Missouri, but not in Illinois.
“Finally the state’s attorneys said, ‘We’re not going to prosecute these cases until this all gets ironed out.’ I think you would have the same situation like this,” said Watson, whose department also helps oversee MetroLink security.
People in Illinois are allowed to conceal carry with a license, but businesses and property owners can say they won’t allow guns on their property, and concealed guns are not allowed at schools and on public transportation.
“It’s a very difficult situation. It puts us in a bad spot,” Watson said in an interview. “The law is the law, but reasonableness is a different thing, too. Anytime you apply the law, you want to be reasonable.”
Watson, a Democrat who was recently re-elected, said he does support concealed carry laws.
“Why shouldn’t good people be allowed to carry a gun if they want? They’re good people, they have to get a license, have to be trained and have to go through all the steps,” Watson said. “If they want to go through it, why not?. I would say the same thing on the MetroLink. If they want to do it, they’re well-trained, if they’re licensed, do everything correct, why not?”
Over the years, state Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithon, has proposed legislation to allow people with a proper license to carry a concealed weapon on public transportation. A bill he proposedduring the last legislative session ultimately died in the House Rules Committee.
“Your Second Amendment right is given to every law-abiding citizen that isn’t a felon, or hasn’t been convicted of a felony in the country,” Costello said. “Right now by not allowing public transportation, you’re kind of making exercising your Second Amendment rights a socioeconomic situation because there are a number of people in some of the poorest, most needy amongst us that rely on public transportation. They don’t have their own vehicles, and many of them are in the most crime-ridden areas of the state, so at the end of the day, gun laws are made for gun-abiding citizens.”
“Not allowing conceal carry on public transportation right now is not hindering any of the criminals from carrying weapons,” he added.
Costello said having concealed carry on public transportation allowed in one state and not in the neighboring state would not be practical. He said he plans to introduce a similar bill again, but the chances of it advancing are low.
“Obviously it would be an uphill battle, but it’s something I want to make sure is out there, and people have to pay attention to the fact that there is this socioeconomic disparity for people who rely on public transportation to get everywhere they need to, versus people who have their own private transportation,” Costello said.
SECURITY PLAN UPDATE
Results of a study on how to improve security on the MetroLink system is scheduled to be released this month. The East-West Gateway commissioned a $400,000 study in order to get recommendations to improve safety and security on the line.
“I’m looking forward to the contents of the study so that it would have some insightful ideas and some points on deployment and technology that could help us do a better job,” Roach said. “I think that’s what we’re being asked is to, just like any city that changes and evolves, we need to evolve and change what our plan is with that city and how transit operates within it.”
By Joseph Bustus | Belleville News Democrat