ST. LOUIS — Gov. Mike Parson said on Thursday that he would send the Missouri Highway Patrol to help police the city in the wake of an especially bloody summer here, but would not commit to gun control measures, despite pleas from city leaders and clergy.
Parson met with Mayor Lyda Krewson and almost two dozen religious leaders from across the state on Thursday morning at the Wainwright State Office Building downtown. The leaders urged Parson to act aggressively against the spate of violence in the city.
Parson promised to find funding — likely in the “million-dollar bracket” — for social programs that address gun violence, but left gun control measures in the hands of the Legislature.
“I’ve got to be careful to stay in my lane,” he said.
Clergy said after the meeting that they were heartened to hear Parson express support for such social programs, but disappointed he refused to advocate for gun control.
“We asked the governor to be a champion for our community around the issue of common-sense gun laws,” the Rev. Darryl Gray said. “We didn’t get a commitment from the governor today to be that champion.”
It’s been a violent year in St. Louis, with 138 murders — almost two dozen more than this time last year — including 12 victims ages 17 and under. The vast majority of victims have been killed by guns.
“Right now we’re all concerned,” Parson said after the meeting. “It’s unfortunate that all these children have been shot and killed and we’re now dealing with it after that. But this has been a long time in the making, and we’ve got to figure out solutions.”
Parson, Krewson and Gray described multiple ways the state could help:
The city has asked for Highway Patrol help on interstates 44, 64, 55 and 70. City Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said he’s looking for the arrival of state troopers “as soon as possible,” but couldn’t be more precise.
Parson agreed to look for state funding for added law enforcement tools such as the ShotSpotter system — a gunshot detection sensor — and security cameras, Gray said. Clergy are interested in creating “safe zones” in churches so people have a place to go to avoid violence.
Religious leaders are also hopeful that state funding will be found for a crime prevention program like Cure Violence.
Gray said they are “cautiously optimistic” that state funding could be found for job creation, which Gray believes would eventually decrease gun violence.
“We are pleased with his acknowledgement that the death of black children in St. Louis and Kansas City is not just a black community problem, that it’s a Missouri problem,” Gray said.
Krewson said she’d like to see permits required for firearms in the city of St. Louis, but she’d need help from the state to get that passed into law. In January 2017 Missouri became the first state to allow open and concealed carry of weapons without a permit.
“I don’t consider it a big ask,” Krewson said. “The governor and I have talked about it many times.”
The Missouri Legislative Black Caucus called on Parson in late August to initiate a special legislative session to discuss gun control, but Parson declined to do so.
Parson has agreed to meet with clergy again in 30 days to discuss more specific solutions, Gray said. The governor has also said he would appoint a senior staff member to work out details, and hold a meeting with regional elected officials, Gray added.
“This is the beginning of a conversation,” Gray said. “Did we think we were going to get everything we asked for today? We’re not naive, so no, we didn’t think that.”