ST. LOUIS • The St. Louis Zoo is no place to carry guns, a judge has ruled.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty on Friday ruled that a gun rights activist from Cincinnati who had pressed the issue, along with anyone else with knowledge of the order, is barred from concealing or carrying guns inside the zoo, a publicly funded institution.
Moriarty’s order makes permanent a temporary ban issued in June 2015 after gun rights activist Jeffry Smith said he planned to lead a group of armed people into the zoo to challenge its policy prohibiting guns. The day after the temporary order, Smith entered the zoo wearing an empty holster.
The judge said the zoo argued it fits the state law’s definition of a “gun-free zone” in that it is both an educational facility and a gated amusement park as defined by the state’s open-carry statute.
“The zoo has shown that the safety, patronage and image of the zoo will be compromised if visitors are permitted to carry firearms or other weapons on zoo property, which would significantly harm the level of visitorship, as well as the mission, the public image and autonomy of the zoo as an institution,” Moriarty wrote in her ruling.
Moriarty’s ruling said the zoo’s gun ban does not violate the constitutional rights of gun owners because it is “narrowly tailored to support a reasonable government purpose” and would survive “strict scrutiny” as stipulated in a 2014 gun rights amendment to the Missouri Constitution.
The zoo had argued in court that its gun ban is legal because the 90-acre campus, which has on-site preschool and children’s education programs, constitutes a classroom. The zoo said it also believes its campus meets the state’s definition of a gated amusement park. More than 486,000 students participated in the zoo’s educational programs in 2015.
Smith, the gun rights activist, could not be reached for comment Monday, but he has said he believes Missouri’s gun laws and the 2014 state constitutional amendment guaranteeing gun rights mean people can carry firearms in publicly funded institutions such as the zoo.
His lawyer, Jane Hogan, said Monday that she and Smith disagree with the decision and will appeal it to a higher court. She said Moriarty has made an “overly broad” interpretation of terms mentioned in the state’s gun laws.
“To say that it’s a school or an amusement park, then any McDonald’s that has a playground would be an amusement park because they have rides and sell food,” Hogan said. ”The legislature has given us no guidance here. When they say ‘amusement park,’ we don’t know what they mean because they use ‘place of amusement’ in other statutes. So we have to assume they mean something different.”