Twelve year push gets increased penalties for ‘celebratory gunfire’ to governor’s desk for first time

      Nearly 12 years after the tragic death of an 11 year-old Independence girl, the Missouri legislature has voted for a bill bearing her name.  “Blair’s Law” would increase the penalty for recklessly firing guns into the air and, backers hope, raise awareness about how dangerous that practice is.

Blair Shanahan Lane (Photo courtesy: Michelle Shanahan DeMoss)

      The House had voted in two previous years to pass Blair’s law and this year the Senate concurred, sending it for the first time to the governor’s desk.  The proposal was added to Senate Bill 189, which was passed out of the House 109-11 and now awaits the action of Governor Mike Parson (R).

      It was news Michele Shanahan DeMoss, the mother of Blair Shanahan Lane, had been working toward and awaiting for more than a decade.

      “It started as overwhelming,” DeMoss told House Communications.  “Just really quietly thinking like, ‘wow, we’re not going to have to do this again.’”

      What DeMoss was realizing she might not have to do again is come to Jefferson City and testify before legislators as she has done multiple times each year since her daughter’s death, each time recounting and reliving the events of July 4, 2011.  That was when, while outside celebrating the holiday, Blair was truck in the neck by a bullet fired by someone more than half a mile away who had fired their gun into the air.  She died the next day.

      “[Testifying on Blair’s Law legislation] has become a pattern of living, and nothing, by any means, that I’m not going to be happy not having to do anymore,” said DeMoss, who quickly adds that a lot of good has come and continues to come out of that effort.  “I was reminded by somebody [in the Capitol] when I went to tell them goodbye and they said, ‘No, no, no, you can come back and visit us.  You don’t have to come back just because of that.  With that being said, just because it’s done doesn’t mean the good things that have happened because of what we’ve been doing for the past 12 years can’t remain.”

      Some of that good has come in the form of increased awareness. 

      “There’s no doubt our conversation and consistent work has definitely made a difference,” said DeMoss.

      Police believe firearms are still being discharged into the air, however, especially around holidays like New Year’s Eve.  The SoundSpotter system, sound capturing technology that the Kansas City Police Department uses to identify potential gunshots, identified more than 2,300 rounds fired between 6 p.m. December 31, 2022, and 6 a.m. the following morning.  That was more than double the total from the previous year.

      Representative Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) said a desire to increase awareness that firing guns into the air is not safe was one of his biggest motivations for carrying Blair’s Law.

      “The governor signing it, different legislators in their respective districts and cities creating an awareness about it will help, the media will play a real big role in this,” said Sharp. 

      Sharp is optimistic that the governor will sign Blair’s Law into law, partly based on conversations he’s had with Parson’s staff. 

Michele Shanahan DeMoss (Photo: Michael Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      This was Sharp’s fourth year sponsoring the legislation, joining several other current and former legislators who have carried that proposal since 2011.  This year’s version would specify that a person is guilty of unlawful discharge of a firearm if they, with criminal negligence, discharge a firearm in or into the limits of a municipality.  A first offense would be a class “A” misdemeanor which carries up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $2,000; a second time would be a class “E” felony carrying up to four years in prison; and third and any subsequent offense would be a class “D” felony, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

      No state law directly addresses “celebratory gunfire.”  In Kansas City it is a violation of city ordinance.  The man who fired the bullet that killed Blair pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and served 18 months in prison.  Had Blair’s Law been in effect, the above penalties could have been applied in addition to that sentence.

      Penalties are one thing, but as Sharp and DeMoss said, as much as anything, Blair’s Law has been about awareness.

      “Obviously we’ve done press conferences in the past and that’s on the local news too, but I think if it’s talked about on a more regular basis and not just once or twice a year we’ll start to see some more awareness with it,” said Sharp. 

      Blair’s Law has consistently had broad, bipartisan support, yet it still took 11 legislative sessions before it passed.  In spite of that, DeMoss didn’t get frustrated and didn’t give up.  She said in many of the past years when the bill didn’t pass, she wondered whether it was because of some oversight on her part, “[before] realizing it was a course of time and, as in a lot of things, it wasn’t for me to have control over.  As the years turned, the education and the understanding and the relationships are what were supposed to happen, and it continues happening.”

      Sharp said it is because DeMoss persevered that this legislation finally made it to the governor. 

      “She’s a joy.  She is a real joy,” said Sharp, who notes that he knows what it’s like to be around a parent who has lost a daughter, as his own sister died in a domestic violence incident when he was eight.

Representative Mark Sharp (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

       “The grace that Blair’s mom carries herself with is just first class, top notch, and she could easily be coming to Jefferson City angry that it hasn’t been passed yet.  She could easily have been that kind of person but she wasn’t.  I think that speaks to her character.”

      While waiting to see what Governor Parson will do, DeMoss is taking this latest, farthest progress as a victory. 

“The list is very long of thanking people for their support and thanking everybody for continually raising awareness.  I think people finally realize it is a tragedy that continues to happen,” she said.

The passage of a law bearing Blair’s name isn’t the only way she is being remembered.  Blair has also been honored for being an organ donor, with six of her organs having gone to five people, and DeMoss still runs a charity in her daughter’s name:  Blair’s Foster Socks gives socks and other items to children in need.

      “We continue to grow and restructure but definitely socks are still coming in and good things are still happening.  We just hosted a small group of boy scouts and look forward to distributing some socks.  Earlier in the year we had a group that we got together with and made sock puppets … and deliver them to some nursing homes.  The socks are just something simple that help us to empower, to uplift, and to give back.”

      DeMoss has found it difficult when asked to sum up how she feels with this bill passage, but she recalls a message someone else sent to her, “‘I really wanna say congratulations but the gravity of the reason this law is needed keeps me from celebrating, but we can now be thankful that Missouri now is a safer place to be for future celebrations.’”

      Governor Parson has until July 14 to either sign SB 189 into law, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.  If it becomes law, Blair’s Law would become effective August 28.

Bipartisan effort would create “Blair’s Law,” criminalizing celebratory gunfire

      Three Missouri lawmakers are leading a bipartisan effort to criminalize celebratory gunfire.  Their bills would create what is called “Blair’s Law,” in honor of 11 year-old Blair Shanahan Lane, who was killed by an errant bullet fired during a 4th of July celebration in 2011.

Michelle Shanahan DeMoss talks to the House Committee on General Laws. (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      Representatives Rory Rowland (D-Independence), Nick Schroer (R-O’Fallon), and Mark Sharp (D-Kansas City) have filed House Bills 722, 795, and 99, respectively.  Those were presented to the House Committee on General Laws, which heard from Blair’s mother, Michele Shanahan DeMoss.

      “It will be 10 years, July of 2021, since my daughter was fatally struck by a bullet,” said Shanahan DeMoss.

      She said her daughter died July 5 and donated six organs to five people. 

      “She gave, as I’m asking you to give the opportunity for this bill to be passed.  It’s a simple request to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor – basically, to me, a parking ticket.  A fine, and go on your way, and it happens year after year after year,” said Shanahan DeMoss.  “If we can increase the penalty of the crime maybe, maybe somebody doesn’t do it.”

Blair Shanahan Lane (courtesy; Michele Shanahan DeMoss)

      Representative Schroer said as he was growing up his family sometimes went to the basement during times of celebration because guns were being fired into the air in the region.

      “One of the pillars of responsible gun ownership is knowing where you’re pointing your gun and knowing where that projectile is going to go and where it’s going to land,” said Schroer. 

      Representative Sharp said between 6pm December 31 and 6am on January 1 in South Kansas City Missouri, at least 12 residences were hit by indiscriminate gunfire. 

He said the shot spotter technology employed by police, “indicated about 1,600 shots were fired in Kansas City alone.”

      Captain Kari Thompson is the Assistant Division Commander for the Homeland Security Division of the Kansas City, Missouri Police Department.  She said the legislation would make a common sense change in the law.

Representatives Mark Sharp (at left, holding newspaper), Rory Rowland (wearing mask), and Nick Schroer (right) have all sponsored a version of Blair’s Law. (Photo: Mike Lear, Missouri House Communications)

      “The question is not ‘if’ this will happen again, it’s ‘when.’  We want to remember that this is, for some families, a family tradition.  Let’s go out on the porch or in the back yard and shoot off our weapons in a celebratory manner for 4th of July, for New Year’s Eve, and now for Super Bowl Sundays,” said Thompson.

      Blair was hit in the neck by a bullet fired by a Kansas City man, who pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.  He served 18 months in prison.  Had one of these measures been in place he could’ve faced additional prison time for the charge it would create.

      The committee has not voted on the legislation.


DeMoss = dee-moss

Kari = CAR-ee

Schroer = shroe-ur

Rory Rowland = roar-ee roe-land