A bill introduced last week by U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, goes to the heart of why St. Louis and other urban centers can’t gain the upperhand on gun violence. State legislatures, bowing to the whims of the National Rifle Association, keep loosening laws on gun possession while overriding cities’ ability to regulate what happens within their own jurisdictions.
The result, local officials say, is that officers on the street and prosecutors in the courts are increasingly hamstrung in their ability to go after dangerous offenders. We see the effect daily in St. Louis as the homicide and gun-injury statistics climb higher. Lawmakers rationalize easing gun laws further to help law-abiding citizens protect themselves. The only winners in this scenario are the gun manufacturers whose sales are the primary focus of NRA lobbying efforts in Washington, Jefferson City and other state capitals.
The Missouri Legislature keeps turning a blind eye to the effects these laws have on urban law enforcement. Clay’s bill seeks to reverse that dynamic by putting power back into the hands of local officials. Under his bill, which has 20 cosponsors, federal public safety funding could be jeopardized if states do not comply.
“I’m tired of the violence,” Clay told reporters Friday. “I’m tired of the excuses. And I’m tired of our state Legislature being unable or just too frightened to do something about gun violence.” Other St. Louis officials, including Mayor Lyda Krewson, Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards and Police Chief John Hayden, also have expressed growing exasperation.
One major problem is the Legislature’s cancellation of gun-permitting laws which, as Krewson has noted, eliminates one of the main ways law enforcers can challenge criminal suspects who are carrying a firearm. No longer can police ask to see the person’s gun permit.
“We have a scenario that has been brewing for awhile where our police officers don’t have cause to arrest people for guns, and they’re not even able to explore why they (suspects) have a gun” in cases where criminal behavior is evident, Edwards told the editorial board in April. Because of state restrictions, local authorities have had to request federal intervention to ensure that gun possession is prosecuted when it’s relevant to the commission of another crime.
Under Clay’s bill, states could no longer restrict local governments from:
- requiring background checks for firearms purchases;
- restricting the ability to carry a firearm in public places;
- restricting the quantity and type of ammunition that an individual is allowed to purchase;
- requiring gun owners to safely store their firearms, especially in households with children;
- prohibiting the sale and transfer of certain types of especially deadly firearms and accessories, including semi-automatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Clay’s bill is a worthy effort to restore balance and common sense where it is so badly needed.