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Discussion reveals shared desire to reduce gun violence, but tactics differ

Handgun illustration, guns
LA Johnson
Manchester United Methodist Church partnered with Moms Demand Action and the U.S. attorney to talk about gun violence in the region.

A year after the Las Vegas shooting that left dozens dead and hundreds injured, Manchester United Methodist Church held its own public discussion on gun violence throughout the St. Louis region.

What some expected to be a heated debate turned out to be a peaceful discussion on how Moms Demand Action and the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern District of Missouri are working to curb gun violence.

U.S Attorney Jeff Jensen spoke at the event Monday night. He said his office is targeting areas that have higher crime rates, including in a rectangle in north St. Louis between Goodfellow Boulevard, Vandeventer Avenue and Martin Luther King Drive. He said his office specifically focuses its efforts on violent offenders, and he has doubled the number of prosecutors who work on violent crime cases.

“We go after certain individuals if we think we have a most violent offenders list,” Jensen said. “If we think they’re violent offenders we put them on a list and then we do what we can to get them off the street, and be really aggressive when prosecuting them.”

He said lower recidivism rates and targeted efforts to get information from both witnesses and criminals to finding those who have committed crimes have slowly changed things for the better.

“Here we’re being extremely aggressive in federal prosecutions, especially gun prosecutions,” he said. “We’ve more than doubled them. I think we have more gun prosecutions in this district than any other district in the country.”

Jensen said providing jobs to young people or those with a criminal record would help decrease gun violence.

But Gail Wechsler, a national mentor for Moms Demand Action, said a big issue is Missouri’s lenient gun laws.

“The state legislature passed permit less carry,” Wechsler said. “So that means in Missouri you can legally own a firearm without any permit requirement. Without any requirement that you had even half an hour of training.”

Wechsler said criminal background checks are needed in the state and the lack of the checks is exacerbating gun violence.

But the group touts small victories that prevented looser gun laws from making it through two legislative sessions.

Follow Marissanne on Twitter: @Marissanne2011

Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.