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Gun rights advocate challenges St. Louis Zoo policy barring weapons

Gun rights advocate challenges St. Louis Zoo policy barring weapons

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Open Carry Firearm Walk

Jeffry Smith (in cowboy hat) and his son Kevin Smith (second from right) thank Mike Horton, law enforcement specialist for the National Park Service, for his guidance with the laws and permits to make the Open Carry Firearm Walk possible on Saturday, Oct. 25, 2014. Open carry gun supporters held a rally and walk from Citygarden to the Arch grounds to raise awareness of gun rights. Photo by Cristina Fletes-Boutte, cfletes-boutte@post-dispatch.com

A gun-rights advocate challenging the St. Louis Zoo’s policy that prohibits people from bringing in weapons says he and others may show up next week carrying firearms.

Jeffry Smith, 56, who in October led a march of about 40 people through downtown St. Louis to assert their right to carry guns openly in public, said he might defy the zoo’s signs that say no firearms or weapons are allowed on the property. State law does prohibit guns in gated areas of amusement parks, but Smith questions whether the zoo fits that description because it is a public, taxpayer-supported attraction.

“That signage, unless it’s backed up by case law or statutory law, is nothing more than the zoo’s attempt to reinforce their biases and to deceive people into not exercising their rights,” said Smith, of Cincinnati. “This is not about protecting oneself from the wildebeests in the zoo. This is about the zoo deceiving people into thinking they don’t have that choice” of whether to bring a gun in or leave it in a car.

Zoo spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said she could not answer questions about the issue but provided a statement saying, “It is the St. Louis Zoo’s position that all weapons, including concealed firearms, are prohibited within the gated area of the zoo.”

The statement said the zoo’s weapons ban also relied on “numerous state statutes” including several provisions of state statute 571.107 “that support our position that weapons are prohibited.” The statement did not specify which parts of the law apply to the zoo.

Smith said he might carry out a challenge to the firearms ban next week by bringing a weapon or empty holster to the zoo. Smith also started a Facebook page to provide updates of his plan and invite others to join him.

Smith said his plan stemmed from an incident on May 25 when a fellow gun rights advocate, Sam Peyton, 40, of Springfield, Mo., left his gun in his vehicle outside but was questioned inside the zoo by security about his empty holster and told it, too, was forbidden.

Peyton, who said he was an out-of-work licensed bodyguard, told the Post-Dispatch on Monday that he felt zoo security guards improperly detained him about his empty holster on Memorial Day. He said he and his wife had spent about 2½ hours at the zoo. As they were leaving, he approached a security guard to ask about the signs prohibiting weapons.

Peyton said that’s when he showed the guard his empty, inside-the-waistband holster, and the guard asked him if he was armed. Peyton said that he told them he had only the holster, and that security then asked him to leave, warning him they would call police if he refused.

“For me to be harassed for an empty holster, that was ridiculous,” Peyton said. “Why was I put out of the zoo for an empty holster? If they can’t explain that, I want an apology.”

Peyton said he would attend whatever event Smith planned next week at the zoo. Peyton said he wanted to know what training the zoo gives its security guards on Missouri’s gun laws.

“I totally believe I was within my rights,” he said.

St. Louis police said the city’s legal division “is researching the legality of the event” and would provide an update of what they conclude.

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