South KC Perspective
By John Sharp
Heart-wrenching testimony a week earlier by the mother of a young victim killed here by celebratory gunfire resulted in the Missouri House General Laws Committee voting 15-0 on March 8 to recommend passage of legislation making celebratory gunfire and any other discharge of firearms with criminal negligence in cities a serious state offense.
Michelle Shanahan-DeMoss, the mother of 11-year-old Blair Shanahan Lane who died after being struck by celebratory gunfire on July 4, 2011, pleaded with legislators to increase the penalty for such dangerous behavior that is now prohibited just by city ordinances, some of which she described as having penalties more appropriate for parking tickets than for the dangerous behavior that took her only daughter’s life.
Kansas City Police Captain Kari Thompson testifying for the legislation on behalf of the Police Department noted that officers investigating Blair’s shooting found over 50 shell casings at the site of where the fatal shot was fired.
If nothing is done to effectively deter such behavior, she said, “The question is not if this will happen again, but when it will happen.”
Kansas City Police Detective Alane Booth who investigated Blair’s killing was equally plain spoken, noting that not passing this legislation is like saying Blair’s life was not important.
To illustrate the extent of the problem in the Kansas City area, Damon Daniel, president of the Kansas City based AdHoc Group against Crime, submitted written testimony explaining that over the last three years his group has provided minor home repairs to more than 200 homes struck by bullets, including 81 homes in 2020.
“To say that violence is a critical issue in Kansas City is an understatement. Law enforcement officials need policies like this to help reduce crime and victimization,” he said.
One south Kansas City resident who provided written testimony said holidays in our city “sound like a war zone”. She said that six years ago her new neighbors across the street stood in their driveway on New Year’s Eve, at times with their children, and shot handguns in the air from 8:45 p.m. to 2:30 a.m.
“It is only a matter of time before the damage is not just property but more loss of life,” she said.
“If we can make one person stop shooting, it’s worth it,” said Shannon Cooper who testified for the legislation on behalf of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Jeremy LaFaver representing the South Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, testified that passing Blair’s Law is one of that organization’s top priorities. Chamber President Vickie Wolgast submitted written testimony, stating, “By passing this legislation, hopefully people will think twice before shooting their guns in the air.”
Others providing written testimony in support of the legislation included Sam Panettiere representing the City of KCMO and Christian County Prosecuting Attorney Amy Fite on behalf of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
Nobody testified in person against the legislation, but one person submitted written testimony stating his personal opposition.
The legislation recommended for passage (House Committee Substitute for House Bills 795, 99 & 722) is a combination of three very similar bills, all named Blair’s Law to memorialize Blair Shanahan Lane. It makes discharging a firearm with criminal negligence within or into city limits a felony.
The bills are House Bill 99 introduced by my son, Representative Mark Sharp of south Kansas City, and five co-sponsors, House Bill 722 introduced by Representative Rory Rowland of Independence and House Bill 795 introduced by Representative Nick Schroer of O’Fallon in St. Charles County and one co-sponsor.
The legislation now goes to the House Rules-Legislative Oversight Committee which also must recommend it for passage before it can be considered by the entire House of Representatives, and if passed by the House, then by the Missouri Senate.
Last year the House General Laws Committee heard these bills introduced by the same three sponsors and combined them as a committee substitute then too, which it recommended for passage by a 12 to 1 vote. Time ran out before the legislation could be voted on by the full House since last year’s legislative session was shortened considerably due to the pandemic.