Calling gun violence an epidemic that’s devastating St. Louis, Rep. Lacy Clay, D-Mo., is introducing a federal bill that would allow cities such as St. Louis to write their own, stricter gun laws, separate from the rest of the state. Clay’s Local Public Health and Public Safety Act would require all states receiving federal law enforcement assistance to allow communities in those states to write their own gun laws, even if they were more stringent than current state laws.
Forty-three states, including Missouri, currently forbid communities from enacting firearms legislation.
“Gun violence is an emergency,” Clay said, “and I’m tired of our state legislature being unable or unwilling to act because they’re being held hostage by the NRA. State legislatures shouldn’t prevent local communities from enacting common-sense gun reform.”
His comments were echoed by Mayor Lyda Krewson and City Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards, who were among officials and physicians joining Clay for his announcement news conference at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, held near the emergency room entrance where dozens of children every year are brought after suffering gunshot wounds.
“Our state legislature does not know better what we need than the people who live here,” Krewson said, adding, “This legislation would let the city pass legislation mandating background checks and restricting the sales of particularly deadly weapons and ammunition.”
Edwards, who has advocated in the past for separate gun legislation for metropolitan areas, said, “This is a law that I believe will save lives.”
Clay’s legislation would restrict or cut off federal law enforcement funds from states that refuse to allow cities to restrict firearms sales and possession beyond what state law allows.
Missouri’s gun laws are among the most lax in the country. In January 2017, Missouri became the first state in the country to allow residents to carry concealed weapons without any permit or training. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Missouri now has the fifth worst rate of firearms homicides of any state.
“We are in a crisis,” said James Clark of Better Family Life, an organization devoted to reducing the gun violence and death rate among St. Louis’s African-Americans. “The access to guns has reached the point where more young men have access to a gun than have a wallet in their back pocket. This proposal needs to become law.”
It’s doubtful, though, that Clay’s proposal will ever become law while pro-gun Republicans control the U.S. Senate and Donald Trump remains in the White House. Clay tried to frame his proposal as a common-sense pro-law enforcement approach.
“As a responsible gun owner, I support the Second Amendment,” said Clay, a 10-term congressman. “The epidemic of gun violence in cities like St. Louis and Kansas City is different from the rest of the state, and endangers both civilians and police and first responders.”
Dr. Alexis Elward, chief medical officer of St. Louis Children’s Hospital, endorsed Clay’s proposal, detailing the gruesome damage that a nine mm bullet traveling at over 800 mph does to a child’s body.
“It destroys or liquifies internal organs,” she said. “It rips apart blood vessels and creates huge bleeding cavities inside the body. It shreds the vascular system. So far this year, more than 40 children have arrived here at our emergency room and trauma center suffering from gunshot wounds.”