This year may be remembered in St. Louis for the most tragic of statistics: At least 13 kids have died in the city by guns so far this year. Most were homicides, most in recent months. The offer of $25,000 for information about recent shooting deaths is an appropriately aggressive response.
But if this tide of young blood is to stop, elected leaders must address the conditions of poverty and hopelessness that drive violence in too many areas of the city. And they need to address the problem of easy access to guns, which turns what might otherwise be neighborhood fistfights or shouting matches into fatalities. Unfortunately, ideological extremists in the Legislature are tying the city’s hands. They should untie them.
It’s been an emotionally exhausting summer for St. Louis, with headlines announcing the grim toll of dead kids week after week. The parade of young lives lost recently includes a teenage girl found in a parking lot, a second-grader killed as he played in his backyard, and a 3-year-old girl shot on a sidewalk as she ate a slice of pizza.
Bringing the killers to justice is complicated by distrust of the police in impoverished black neighborhoods. “Around St. Louis, we don’t snitch on people,” one victim’s brother told the Post-Dispatch. “We keep it in the streets.” Given St. Louis’ strained history of police-community relations, that attitude isn’t entirely surprising — but it helps perpetuate the cycle of violence and cannot be accepted.
That’s why the announcement by Mayor Lyda Krewson and others of a $25,000 reward for information leading to arrests in the child deaths is a particularly good move. The reward, donated by local philanthropists Rex and Jeanne Sinquefield, is offered until Sunday through CrimeStoppers (866-371-8477, or stlrcs.org).
That incentive shouldn’t be necessary to bring justice for these young victims, but at this point, anything is worth a try.
How to address the poverty and social dysfunction underlying most of this gun violence is a bigger, more complicated debate. How to prevent that dysfunction from turning deadly, though, shouldn’t be: St. Louis has a gun problem that must be brought under control.
Missouri’s permissive gun laws allow most adults to obtain and carry firearms in public with little oversight. They make it virtually impossible to prevent even barred felons from getting their hands on guns, since there are no state requirements for universal background checks. And with few exceptions, local officials are barred from passing stronger controls than the state imposes.
Those state laws were written primarily by conservative rural or suburban lawmakers who seem to think gun issues in Rolla or Ladue are the same as in the inner city. They aren’t. St. Louis, awash in the blood of children, needs all the tools it can find to address this crisis. If legislators won’t help, at least they should get out of the way.