Welcome to Missouri, where most 19-year-olds can now legally carry a concealed weapon without a permit.
Here, you no longer have to retreat before shooting someone outside your home if you feel your life is in danger. You can buy a handgun from a private seller without having your criminal background or mental health history checked. The state Capitol allows concealed weapons in most places, and might allow them on college campuses and churches.
Since 2004, when Missouri ended its ban on concealed carry after 128 years, the state has been rapidly relaxing its gun laws. A law known as the "castle doctrine" removed the duty to retreat in self-defense situations on private property. The concealed carry age was lowered from 21 to 19 (and to 18 for those in the Army). Certified school employees can carry guns on campus. Open carry is allowed for anyone with a concealed carry weapons permit. Missouri once required eight hours of training for gun owners, but now public-school first-graders receive more mandatory instruction by watching a video.
In January, the Missouri legislature added two more expansive provisions to the list: "permitless carry," which guarantees the ability to bear a concealed weapon without training or permit, and "stand your ground," a self-defense law that expanded the "castle doctrine" to public places. Those changes have led to confusion. Days after the new law took hold, a young Columbia gun owner shot someone because of a dispute over an iPhone. He erroneously believed it was legal to shoot another in order to defend a piece of property. The Columbia Public Library changed their signage regarding concealed weapons after a state representative who brought her gun inside threatened to sue the library for banning firearms.
"'Stand your ground' laws have been widely condemned for facilitating violent encounters and, in court, for unequal application," reported The Trace, a publication that documents American gun laws. It was under Florida's "stand your ground" law that neighborhood watch leader George Zimmerman fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, in 2012. The incident provoked national outrage and expanded public awareness of the laws. States have been reluctant to enact such laws since 2012, but Missouri's law passed with ease, overriding then-Gov. Jay Nixon's veto with a three-fourths majority, though only two-thirds was required. Not everyone is on board. Members of advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have been vocal about the changes. They attend legislative sessions to voice opposition to expanding gun laws, including a recent attempt to abolish gun-free zones.
In St. Louis, which has the country's highest homicide rate, doctors worry that the new laws will only exacerbate gun violence. They endure the stress of treating babies and others who suffer lifelong injuries or ultimately die because of it. They want to address the problem as a public health issue and discuss gun safety with their patients, but they feel the problem has become too political. Community leaders who work to address gun violence in urban, predominantly black neighborhoods feel especially disconnected from the rural and suburban white legislators who proposed and passed the laws. They're concerned easier access to guns will make the problem worse.
Meanwhile, no other state saw a larger per capita increase in gun homicide rates from 2008 to 2014 than Missouri, according to a Johns Hopkins study. The study's lead researcher, Daniel Webster, says, "Missouri policy makers have a created an environment where you've reduced accountability ... removing other sort of constraints on behavior (that) encourages the use of lethal force in situations where it's really not necessary."
So how did Missouri get here, and what does all this mean for the average Missourian? For the future? Eight Vox reporters went on a search to find out. Click on the headlines below to read what they discovered.
Click each headline to see what our writers discovered
A cell phone deal gone wrong ended with one man shot, one man awaiting trial, and the first attempt to use the "stand your ground" defense in Missouri
More laws, less order: Recent rollbacks in state gun laws may be making the problem worse
Battling lax gun laws seems trying — but members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America don't back down
Based on current policy, data and examples from elsewhere, this hypothetical story envisions an MU where students bear arms