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St. Louis may limit the open carry of firearms under legislation filed this week

A man open carries a rifle in downtown St. Louis.
Danny Wicentowski
St. Louis Public Radio
A man open carries a rifle amid protesters demanding gun control reforms in March 2018 in downtown St. Louis. A proposed ordinance in St. Louis would restrict the open carry of firearms to only those who have a concealed carry permit.

A bill that would restrict people’s ability to openly carry firearms in St. Louis is going before the city’s Board of Aldermen.

The proposed ordinance, introduced by 8th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, would make it illegal for people to openly display a gun within city limits, unless that person has a concealed carry permit or endorsement from Missouri or another state.

The bill stipulates that people would need to display such a permit if they’re asked to by a police officer while openly carrying a firearm.

“Punishing people is not the goal,” Spencer said. “Really just the removal of guns, the changing of gun-carrying culture is what we’re looking for here.”

There would be consequences for people who openly display a gun and don’t have a concealed carry permit. The bill lays out a maximum penalty of a fine of at least $500 and a jail stay of up to 30 days. Police could confiscate the gun as well.

These penalties drop to a fine of $35 for someone who does have a concealed carry permit but not on them when asked by a police officer.

Spencer said she hopes this kind of bill would reduce the number of guns on city streets, especially among younger people. Part of that comes from Missouri’s rules around concealed carry permits, she added.

“For one, you have to be 19,” Spencer said. “So it immediately addresses the large number of teenagers who are unfortunately carrying firearms openly in our city.”

Concealed carry permits also require firearm safety classes, she said. Spencer adds the open display of firearms can lead to more violence.

“The use of a weapon is so much higher if someone has it in their hand rather than someone who has it in their backpack,” Spencer said.

She said she’s heard general support for this kind of legislation, which is modeled after similar legislation in Kansas City, which Spencer said is effective at limiting the open carrying of firearms.

“In Kansas City, you haven’t seen the proliferation of openly carrying firearms because police officers can immediately confiscate one if you choose to do that,” she said.

Spencer’s bill hinges on an exception in Missouri’s gun laws that lets a jurisdiction ban the open carrying of firearms except for those who have a concealed carry permit, she said.

There is some worry about this tactic to limit firearms in St. Louis. Board of Aldermen President Megan Green said any action the city takes needs to be legally defensible.

“I don't want to give residents false hope that we can implement public safety measures if there isn't a high likelihood that they can be upheld in court,” she said in a statement. “And given the state's recent interest in our city, that is something I'm concerned about.”

Green added that she supports the spirit of the bill but wants legal opinions from the city counselor and advice from Kansas City.

The proposed ordinance is still in early phases, and Spencer said she wants feedback from the greater community so that it can be rolled out in a fair way.

“We have got to do something about guns in our community,” she said. “The state legislature has tied our hands, but this is one avenue the City of St. Louis can take to make our community safer for everyone.”

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.