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