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Proposed St. Louis gun ordinance draws mixed reactions from state lawmakers

A man walks around with a rifle
Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
A man open carries a rifle amid protesters demanding gun control reforms on March 25, 2018, in downtown St. Louis. Under a proposal by St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer, the open carry of firearms would not be allowed in St. Louis unless the person has a concealed carry permit.

When St. Louis Alderwoman Cara Spencer introduced an ordinance to stop the open carry of firearms without a concealed carry permit, she mentioned the role the state played to get to this point.

“We've pointed our fingers, rightfully so, at the state legislature for disabling cities, specifically the city of St. Louis, from doing anything about guns. This has been the battle cry for our state, for our city, for the Board of Aldermen, for as long as I've been down here,” Spencer said.

Spencer is referring to a law passed by state legislators in 2014 that prohibits municipalities from barring the open carry of firearms.

However, Spencer said that same law gave a pathway for municipalities like St. Louis to at least bar the open carry of firearms in public unless that person has a concealed carry permit from Missouri or another state.

Penalties under the proposed ordinance include a maximum fine of $500 and a jail stay of up to 30 days. The firearm could also be confiscated.

The ordinance, which is still in committee, has received mixed reactions from aldermen and state lawmakers, including whether it would survive a court challenge.

Some House Democrats, like Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, said she has already called Spencer to see how she can help.

“I was very happy to find out that she was trying to find a loophole, she's trying to find something, and I prefer that people do something than nothing,” Baringer said.

Similarly, Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said he was thrilled to see the proposed ordinance.

“It's a very good idea to pay close attention to what the state laws are right now. And that is room to actually address the problem in at least some small way,” Merideth said.

Merideth believes there is a good chance the ordinance could survive legal challenges.

Rep. Bill Hardwick, R-Waynesville, said that in his interpretation, St. Louis does have that authority.

“That's probably something that the people of St. Louis get to decide into law, and if they're legally authorized to do that, then that's a decision for St. Louis to make,” Hardwick said.

Not everyone shares that idea.

Alderwoman Alisha Sonnier brought up the possibility of a legal challenge when the bill was heard in committee, saying she questions its legality, especially since Missouri is a constitutional carry state.

“Constitutional carry means that, you know, an individual doesn't need a license, or they don't need a permit to concealed carry or open carry a gun. And that is state law, so that would override anything that we do," Sonnier said.

Spencer said the ordinance is modeled after legislation in Kansas City. However, Rep. Robert Sauls, D-Independence, who has served as prosecuting attorney in Kansas City, said he isn’t sure it’s had much impact.

He also believes it could face legal challenges.

“Any defendant would be able to come and be able to argue that state law says something to the contrary,” Sauls said.

In addition to possible legal challenges, some say it will put police at risk.

Rep. Justin Sparks, R-Wildwood, a former police officer, sees the ordinance as setting up continued confrontations between officers and people openly carrying firearms.

“When you're asking police officers to go up to a group of people with firearms, simply to check if they have a concealed carry permit, of that which is an ordinance level violation, you're immediately putting the entire group under the suspicion that, ‘Why am I being contacted by the police?’” Sparks said.

Merideth said that with any law, you need officers to enforce it. He also said the deterrent effect in the ordinance would help.

“Allowing people to make a call to ask for help when there is somebody just walking down the street carrying a gun, rather than having to wait until they've used it to do something, I think that's a step in the right direction,” Merideth said.

On whether the passage of the St. Louis ordinance would prompt Republican backlash, Hardwick said it’s too early to tell what the reaction would be from the statehouse.

While Sparks doesn’t believe Republicans would stop that effort, he also believes the ordinance will fail on its own, whether it’s through the courts or by the impracticality of enforcement.

“The legislation seems to be just trying to target either the firearm, itself an inanimate object, or trying to address behavioral problems among a certain group of folks, and an ordinance-level violation will never be adequate to do what it is that they're really trying to do,” Sparks said.

Sarah Kellogg has been the Missouri Statehouse and politics reporter for St. Louis Public Radio since 2021.

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