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Missouri gun laws face challenges in the courts and the streets

Jeffry Smith drinks a bottle of water inside the Saint Louis Zoo while wearing an empty gun holster on Saturday, June 13, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Over the next few days, gun-rights activists will challenge the limits of the Missouri’s gun laws in different ways.

On Friday, an attorney for Ohio activist Jeffry Smith will ask St. Louis circuit judge Joan Moriarty to allow Smith to bring a handgun into the St. Louis Zoo, despite signs declaring it a gun-free zone.

Smith planned the protest for June 13. The Zoo secured a temporary restraining order, arguing that Missouri law blocked individuals from bringing firearms, carried either openly or concealed, into amusement parks, educational facilities and child-care facilities. The Zoo's brief requesting the order noted that the Zoo operates a licensed preschool, hosts thousands of children a year for educational purposes, and has attractions such as a merry-go-round and a 4-D ride called "Dino Safari."

Smith complied with the restraining order, and wore an empty holster instead. But in court briefs opposing the order, he said the Zoo was not an amusement park or a child-care or educational facility. He also argued that that the state law allowing for the creation of gun-free zones only regulates concealed-carry, not open-carry. 

Moriarty is unlikely to rule on the case on Friday.

The second challenge to Missouri's gun statutes is more cultural, and it comes from a former member of the Missouri Oath Keepers.

Sam Andrews and other members of the group provided security in Ferguson after a St. Louis County jury announced last year it would not charge former police officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.

"All of the people we spoke to in Ferguson while we were conducting security told us if they carried openly a firearm, that because they’re black, the St. Louis County police would shoot them dead," Andrews said.

That fear bothered him. According to Missouri law,  anyone with a valid permit to carry a weapon concealed may also carry a weapon openly, provided he or she produces the conceal-carry permit.

"If you're a black person, or a Hispanic person, or an Asian person, you absolutely have the same exact rights to open carry your firearm as any white person does," Andrews said. 

He also viewed the march as an educational opportunity.

"It’s important that the minority children of America see black adults carrying firearms and doing it a very safe and very professional way," Andrews said. "If the government can intimidate you into never exercising your rights, they have in a de facto way take your rights away from you."

Andrews expects 80 to 100 people to attend Monday's march. He said the Ferguson police are aware of the march, and have assigned him a liaison to coordinate the event. City officials did not return a request for comment.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.