Last night I took over my fellow beat writer’s work on the Columbia Public Library’s firearm policy – this has been a heated issue for the past month.
For those of you who might be unfamiliar with the situation, it all started in mid-February when Rep. Cheri Toalson Reisch brought a gun into the library. According to our previous reporting, she felt threatened by a meeting that was taking place there and went back to her car to retrieve her gun, which she slipped into her purse. Someone saw her do this, thus beginning the debate over whether or not guns should be allowed in the library.
A little bit more background on the issue: At the beginning of this year, Missouri passed a new law saying that people could conceal and carry a firearm without a permit. Libraries were not listed as a public building in which guns were not allowed. However, the library had a sign out front which prohibited firearms in the building. Toalson Reisch then threatened to sue the library if they didn’t change their gun policy, saying it wasn’t in line with the current law. The library promptly changed the sign to say, “No person shall possess, on the library premises, a weapon of any kind, unless authorized by law.”
Despite changing the sign, the issue was still up for debate among the library’s Board of Trustees, who had a meeting about the issue yesterday. This is where I come in. My fellow beat reporter has been covering this issue since it began about a month ago, but was unable to continue in his reporting. So, I took over and attended the library’s meeting, which was open to the public.
Keep in mind, I haven’t covered a board meeting in quite some time, especially one as heated as this was. When I got there, I wasn’t certain what to expect.
We were herded into a small room, set with a circle of tables for the board and rows of chairs off to the side for the general public. I was one of the first ones there, so I figured maybe it wouldn’t be too busy. But oh boy was I wrong. Shortly before the meeting began, community members began flooding in, and it was so packed that people had to stand in the back because there weren’t enough chairs set up in the meeting room. The meeting began and was immediately opened up to the public for comment. Pretty much everyone in the room spoke, each person talking about how the policy impacted them and their families. Not a single person was in support of allowing guns in the library.
After hearing from the public, the board closed the meeting and sent us all into the hallway for over an hour as they discussed how they would proceed. This was confusing at first, but gave me the time to gather my thoughts and put my notes together, as well as converse with the people who had spoken in the meeting.
Eventually, the board opened the meeting again and we all flooded back into the small room. This is where they told us their decision; that the library was keeping with their new policy of allowing firearms, but because of the school across the street, they would be enforcing concealed carry only with a permit.
This was met by much disappointment among the community members who had attended the meeting. They were confused and agitated that the library was not changing its policies to match the general public consensus. The library board was in agreement with the public; they weren’t happy with the decision either, but said it had to be done.
Overall, this was one of my favorite articles that I’ve worked on this semester. Being able to cover something that has such a large impact in the community was incredible. It was also great to hear from several people who enjoyed reading the final product on the Missourian’s website.