Should I go to Missouri? (#SIGCSE #SIGCSE2015)

The amazing PBL team (Raja, Zbsyzek, Ed and me) have been accepted to run a Puzzle-Based Learning workshop at SIGCSE 2015 in KC, Missouri. I was really excited about this until the recent news about Anita Sarkeesian in Utah broke and it suddenly occurred to me to check to see whether Missouri had concealed carry laws that applied the same way and whether the SIGCSE people had a policy to prevent guns being carried into the auditorium space.

As it turns out, open carry  (for handguns, not long weapons) is permitted in Missouri as of October 11, 2014, (yes, that’s 5 days ago) and these state laws override any local laws on open carry. Concealed carry is also an option but you have to have your permit with you at all times – not carrying the permit will attract a $35 fine! Goodness! I know that would put me off – that’s almost $40 in Australian currency and is nearly 20 minutes of consulting work.

From wikipedia, a gun locked out for safe transport.

From wikipedia, a gun locked out for safe transport.

Missouri also has no permit to purchase, no firearm registration, no owner licensing, no assault weapon law, no magazine capacity restriction and no restriction on “NFA weapons” – which means machine guns.

As far as I can see, SIGCSE has an anti-harassment policy (which is great) but I can’t find anything about guns. I think that far too little heed is paid to the intimidatory nature of someone with a visible gun starting a discussion/argument with a speaker. If we are prepared to stop speakers being stalked, why are we prepared, as an educational community, to allow them to be intimidated by visible firearms?

I am, genuinely, considering whether I should be attending conferences in the US in places where the gun control laws are so at odds with what I’m used to at home. I have a lot to think about on this one and I wonder if this has been brought up with the convenors? Should the international community be thinking more about this as an ongoing issue with attending conferences in the US?

(Please, if I’ve got any of the facts wrong – leap in below and I’ll fix them. Note that “Oh, but KC is perfectly safe” is not actually a fact as KC is in the top 25 most-dangerous cities for gun violence in the US.)

8 Comments on “Should I go to Missouri? (#SIGCSE #SIGCSE2015)”

  1. Bill Barth says:

    The state of Missouri may have no NFA gun ban, but the federal rules are still in place. $500 tax stamp and open inspection access to your gun storage facility to the BATF, at the minimum, are required in order to own any NFA weapons legally. Also, since importation of machine guns for private purposes and sales of machine guns made after 1980-something to non-LEO non-military is also banned, the price of machine guns is through the roof. They’re extremely rare in private hands and extremely valuable. People don’t really walk around with them in public.

    Despite the news, there aren’t that many of these open carrying protests, so the odds of you seeing a gathering of folks openly demonstrating their love for guns is also pretty low. I haven’t traveled to MO since their open carry for handguns law went into effect, but I have spent some time in New Mexico, and there it was legal and pretty rare. I don’t think I saw much of anyone carrying that wasn’t a cop or an MP (I was working for SNL on Kirtland AFB).

    I’ve been living in Texas since before the concealed handgun carry law was passed, I know lots of people with the required permit, and I’ve never seen any related incident. TX has legal open carry of long guns, and I’ve never seen that either except for transportation from parking lot to range facility and back again.

    There are about 90 gun homicides a year in KC ( I can’t tell if this is murders or includes other classes including police-involved shootings. The population of KC proper is about 500k, but the metro area is 2.5M. I suspect the homicide stats come from the whole metro area, but I can’t prove it. Either way, the homicide rate is somewhat high, but the vast majority of these killings involve black killers of black victims. I take all this to mean that your odds are pretty good.

    You’d be safer in Austin (and welcome), but I don’t think that’s a reason to cancel your trip. Maybe you mean that you are thinking of canceling based on the policy disagreement rather than personal safety reasons. If so, you can probably ignore the facts and anecdotes above.


    • nickfalkner says:

      Hi Bill,

      Thanks for the info. I’m more concerned with policy as many internationals are just not used to the same kind of gun presence. Even the Nordic countries, which have a lot of guns, have a very different approach to where you see guns.

      In many regards, it’s the nature of “why does someone have a gun here” and “can we use policy to make certain spaces gun-free” that is more what I’m thinking about.

      This is part of a series of issues affecting international conferences. For example, Australians who go to certain South American countries have to declare it on return and, if they haven’t been vaccinated against certain diseases, risk being held in quarantine. Conferences in Israel require special approval because the Aust government rates the security issues as problematic. Differences in gun culture are just part of the whole bag, really, although not as covered by government requirements.

      I guess that I’m looking to see if, as a community, we’re willing to take on the difficulties of handling cultural differences, where that could pose problems to attendance or open participation.



      • Bill Barth says:

        Yes, post 9/11, we had some similar issues as a host country. International researchers from some countries wanting to come to the US for a conference started having much longer waits for visas if they could get them at all. EU, UK, Australia, etc didn’t appear to me to change too much, but Chinese and Mid-East nationals frequently had to cancel trips and talks. I think the State Department got an earful, and things seem to have more or less gone back to the prior status quo since cancellations due to visa issues seem to have gone way down. Maybe folks are getting a jump on their visas now due to the issues, but I’m not sure. I haven’t been a part of any organizing committees at the level where this was addressed, so I can’t say if they have also taken such issues into account.

        I think that conference attendees can and should influence organizers to try to make changes in the conference policies (see the accelerating pace of change in harassment policies at fan cons), but in many cases in the US, the conference cannot legally restrict the carrying of guns due to the nature of the laws in those states. In TX, if my recollection holds, any private venue, appropriately signed, or one whose revenue is 51+% from alcohol sales, can limit (or must limit for 51+% alcohol) carrying by CHL holders. However, finding a privately-owned conference venue large enough to hold a conference like SIGCSE, which seems to be at a publicly-owned convention center, which was also willing to restrict CHL holders from their premises, might be a challenge.

        Unless there’s been a threat, I’m personally not concerned for myself about the possibility of there being guns at a conference since I would not be intimidated. Having grown up around them, and since the advent of concealed handgun licensing, I’ve operated under a background assumption that they’re ever-present. I haven’t (yet) internalized the feelings of foreigners who do not share this perspective. Can you tell me more?

        From a risk estimation perspective, I think the odds of there being a non-LEO carrying openly at SIGCSE are pretty low. Most attendees will not be from St. Louis and will have to fly there. Flying with a handgun is actively discouraged and a major hassle. So, the odds of a non-local attendee even having a gun are pretty low. Given the choice between carrying concealed with a permit and carrying openly, my estimation of the CSE demographic is that most would choose to conceal. With reciprocity for CHL licenses being nearly universal for those states that do CHL permitting, it’s likely that those who do choose to carry at such an event will do so concealed. Combining these two factors, your pool of potential carriers is pretty small: locals, those in driving distance, and maybe a few who would put up with the airline hassle (almost certainly zero), and among them, almost all of them will conceal. As such, I put the odds of seeing a gun in a talk at near zero.

        Where does the conversation go from here? As an occasional conference committee member and regular attendee, I’m interested in the issues of making a conference welcoming and safe for all attendees.


      • nickfalkner says:

        Thanks, Bill.

        Basically, as an Australian, I never think about guns being around because, 99% of the time, they’re not. We’re used to seeing police with guns (unlike the UK where that is quite rare most of the time) but it would be very unusual to see soldiers with guns – in fact, you wouldn’t see soldiers much at all and most soldiers would fly or travel out of uniform anyway.

        I wouldn’t recommend trawling through it but our state legislation ( makes it pretty clear that there are very strong limitations on what you can own and you have to go through police checks to get a licence anyway. You can’t legally receive ammunition (even as a gift) without a licence except under very strict circumstances.

        This isn’t just about guns, as you’ll note when you look at the list of prohibited weapons:

        So, it’s actually very unusual to see weapons at all on Australian streets – it’s reserved for criminals and the police but, even then, very few Australians will see active criminal activity using firearms. I can’t find more recent figures but, in 2003, only 16% of homicides involved firearms. Knives, cars, axes, poisons, drowning etc are the more common – and, of course, far more ‘personal’ given the reduced range of the weapons. I think we have something like 25 murders a year so the ‘fear for your life’ defence is a little shakier here.

        Basically, concealed or open carry need a justification in law and personal protection is not seen as sufficient justification. Police are seen to have a justification in law, as are security guards who open carry because their job is seen to be sufficiently hazardous. So our fire officers, paramedics, ambulance officers and so on do not (to the best of my knowledge) openly carry guns, although I’m aware that many of their US equivalents might.

        To add to this, we have state police forces for each state, with no local sheriffs or authorities who can be elected. Selection is handled at a state level, as is training.

        So, to summarise, if I saw on a gun concealed about someone’s person back home, I would try to work out if they looked like police but, otherwise, I would probably decamp rapidly.

        I’ve seen LEOs carrying guns around when I’ve been at U Maryland for events and, in a public space like a food court in the US, I am ready for it. But you have to remember that I’ve been around guns a lot and there are any number of people in less-gun-tolerant countries who have not been and, in some cases, come from countries where the only people who have guns are not to be trusted.

        Given the tenor of the times, if someone stood up to ask me a question and they had a visible weapon about their person, I would review my exit strategy, just in case. And, yes, when I give talks in the US, I do develop an exit strategy because bad things happen (rarely) but I like to be prepared.

        It would never occur to me that the person next to me had a gun because that’s just not the culture I’m from.

        Hope that this helps to clarify!


      • Bill Barth says:

        I’ve seen more armed soldiers in the EU than in the US except right after 9/11 or when I was physically on a military base (and then only MPs and entrance guards were armed). Police are the only people I see on a daily basis that are armed in TX since open carry of long guns is rare and open carry of handguns is illegal for non-LEO.

        So, based on these two perspectives, where does the conversation about conferences go? I think the odds of one of your audience members being openly carry is very low, and so you should go to MO and enjoy the conference. But that doesn’t really advance the conversation about conference policies in the abstract. How do we organize them so that everyone is comfortable attending?


      • nickfalkner says:

        I think you’re right. I go to MO and raise the issue there to see what is already in the pipeline for this. I guess I expect to see much more open carry in the future and it’s helpful to work out now what impact this might have on conferences.

        Thanks, Bill!


      • bbarth says:

        I’m not sure I did anything, but you’re welcome!! That being said, I suspect you won’t see much in the way of open carry. Despite the news or the talk, there just aren’t that many people that want to do it. MO has concealed licensure, and most people that I know who have a CHL in TX say that they don’t really care about open carry coming here and that they wouldn’t carry openly if we had it. You might see a few in KC until the novelty wears off, but if you get off one hand for non-LEO open carriers, I’ll buy you a beer! (I’d buy you a beer anyway, so this offer may be perceived has having low value!) Best of luck!

        I’m interested to know how the conversation goes, BTW. I’d be surprised if there was anything in the planning pipeline for it.


  2. Armand H. says:

    just to let you know Missouri accepts other states concealed carry permits. locally it involves finger printing and records check. same for Arizona. you would be safer in a group of CCW permit holders vs a random group any day. in the US there are 9 categories of people who may not possess fire arms see page 9


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