Jaco: The Guns of St. Louis

The middle-aged guy riddled with bullets in an alley just off Wabada. The 58-year-old man slumped in a puddle of blood inside an apartment on Wren. The 32-year-old who had been watching a street fight on Minnesota shot in the face at point-blank range. The 57-year-old man crumpled in the middle of St, Ferdinand, shot repeatedly. The “John Doe” shot dead in an alley parallel to North Broadway.

The nameless dead in St. Louis police reports remind you that what detective novelist Raymond Chandler wrote about 1939 Los Angeles is just as true 80 years later in St. Louis: “So many guns in this town and so few brains.”

The Mexico City firm that tracks murders in every city on earth with a population over 50 thousand concludes that, based on killings per 100 thousand residents, St. Louis has the 13thhighest murder rate on planet Earth, roughly the same as Culiacan, Mexico, which happens to be the headquarters of the Sinaloa drug cartel.

Police Chief John Hayden says the Gateway City resembles Dodge City mainly because rural, white, conservative lawmakers in Jefferson City have passed some of the nation’s most lax gun laws. And he points to a surveillance video cops released last year of two guys with AK-47-style assault rifles waving them around in a parking lot at Grand and Broadway.

Watch Jaco’s interview with Chief Hayden

“The problem is, until these guys start shooting, they had those assault rifles displaying them publicly, and they weren’t breaking any law,” Hayden told me on The Jaco Report (click here to watch that interview). “And that changed in January 2017, when we became one of the few states with gun laws as lax as ours.”

The Second Amendment Bubba Brigade in Jeff City doesn’t care how many (mostly black) St. Louisans are shot and killed every year. Despite their law-n-order yawping, they don’t seem bothered that the tsunami of guns are both leading to more violent crime and endangering cops. They’re, instead, married to the idea that every Missourian has the right to carry an assault weapon with a 30-round magazine in public just in case, you know, Bambi stages an uprising out in the woods somewhere.

They also conveniently ignore facts, such as new figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing Missouri has the sixth highest gun death rate in the country. 1,307 Missourians were killed by gunshots in 2017, a rate of 21.3 corpses for every 100,000 people in the state. That’s almost twice the national average.

And, like flat-earthers convinced they’ll sail off the edge of the earth if they travel far enough, they’re also sure than more guns equal less crime, even though common experience and over 30 different scientific studies show just the opposite is true. Take the 2015 study from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard that shows firearm assaults are around seven times more likely in states with loose gun laws than in states with gun controls. Or the 2003 study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine that shows people who have guns in their homes have a 44 percent higher chance of killing someone else, and a 244 percent higher chance of committing suicide by gun than non-gun households.

If the Jeff City gun nuts are unwilling to pay any attention to evidence or the body count, there’s a slim chance they’ll listen to a cop, but that isn’t stopping Chief Hayden from trying. He told me that he’d like to see two sets of gun laws in the state—one for rural Missouri, and one for urban areas like St. Louis or K.C.

“If I had my opportunity to modify something, I think in areas where the population is denser, maybe there would be some sort of modification for urban areas,” clearly frustrated, Hayden said. “Rural areas are a different challenge from what we face in St. Louis and Kansas City and urban communities.”

Right now, there are two primary sources for the guns that are terrorizing neighborhoods from the Ville to Carondolet. The first is theft. Because so many more people have guns in their homes and cars now, burglars are looking for firearms as much as cash or jewelry. The second source is what are called “straw purchases”—people who buy guns legally, then re-sell them at a significant mark-up on the streets.

And now, the GOP super-majority in Jeff City has an even brighter idea: make it legal to carry concealed weapons on mass transit. The thought of turning buses and Metrolink into free-fire zones, or stopping cops from arresting someone on mass transit with a gun, either doesn’t matter, or never crossed lawmaker’s minds.

So few brains? Look no farther than your state capitol.

Charles Jaco

Charles Jaco is a journalist and author. He has worked for NBC News, CNN, KMOX, KTRS, and Fox 2. He is best known for his coverage of the first Gulf War, and for his "legitimate rape" interview with Senate candidate Todd Akin. He is the winner of three George Foster Peabody Awards, and the author of four books.

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One Comment

  1. Terrible assessment with no regards for the true source of the crime, the criminals that commit the shootings. One has to wonder why Mr. Jaco chooses to omit all of the children who are killed by thugs who have no regard for life whatsoever and his obvious glossing over the facts of how little gun crime there is in Jefferson County, Lincoln County (to name just a few) where gun ownership is at its highest. One of these days Charles, you are going to have to face reality, which is bad people do bad things and a gun never shot anyone without the help of a willing accomplice.

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