Legislators will be asked again to increase penalties for the reckless firing of guns into the air when they begin a new session in January.
For several years legislators have proposed what is known as “Blair’s Law” to criminalize in state statute what’s known as “celebratory gunfire.” It’s named for Blair Shanahan Lane, who was struck in the neck by a bullet fired from more than a half-mile away over a lake, on July 4, 2011. She died the next day.
The owner of the gun that fired the shot that killed Blair later served two years in prison on an involuntary manslaughter charge.
Since then more people have been hurt, and in April 24 year-old KCUR radio reporter Aviva Okeson-Haberman was fatally struck by what authorities have called a stray bullet, while she was in bed in her apartment, reading a book.
In Kansas City celebratory gunfire is a violation of a city ordinance, but no state law directly addresses it. Legislators and others, including Blair’s mother, hope that making it a misdemeanor or a felony would further discourage the practice.
Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) plans to file a bill that would make it a misdemeanor for the first offense, and a felony after that.
“The entire goal of this is to discourage people from doing it,” said Sharp. “I think if this is passed into law and you turn your news on … and you see that this has gone into effect I think that a lot of folks are going to notice that and act accordingly. I think that you will have some folks thinking twice about doing that kind of celebratory activity.”
Sharp thinks most who would fire a gun into the air aren’t doing it out of malicious intent, but he wants them to know it’s not safe and they should stop.
“I don’t think that anybody goes out there with the intention of hoping that one of these bullets hurts someone or damages property … but I think we just have to educate people that these bullets do come down,” said Sharp.
Sharp has been encouraged that the issue has bipartisan support, including from those who are staunch gun rights supporters.
“Those folks are really about their business when it comes to gun safety. They don’t really take it lightly when folks are abusing that privilege. They take that responsibility of gun ownership very seriously. We may not agree on everything but we can certainly agree that that if you’re going to have a weapon it needs to be used and discharged safely,” said Sharp.
Blair’s mother, Michele Shanahan DeMoss, has advocated for passage of the legislation bearing her daughter’s name, including testifying in multiple legislative hearings over the years. She said when Blair died six of her organs were donated to five people, and her mother runs a charity which was Blair’s idea – Blair’s Foster Socks – which provides socks and other items to children in need.
Sharp said he plans to file Blair’s law legislation when prefiling of bills begins on December 1. The 2022 legislative session begins January 5.