Bill on reporting failed gun background checks gets committee approval

Bill on reporting failed gun background checks gets committee approval

CITY HALL – St. Louis soon may have another weapon in its battle against violent crime: a requirement that gun dealers in the city report when potential buyers fail a background check. 

The Board of Aldermen’s Public Safety Committee took testimony Tuesday on a bill to mandate such a requirement and then sent it back to the board with a “do pass” recommendation.

“This is common sense legislation that cities around the country should adopt,” said 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, a member of the committee.

The bill’s chief sponsor is Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed, but the point person at the meeting was Randee Steffen of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

In remarks prepared for delivery at Tuesday’s meeting, Steffen said that the FBI conducted checks through the background checks on gun people who are trying to buy through a licensed gun dealer. 

“The FBI is not required to alert St. Louis authorities when a prohibited person fails a background check, even though that person has likely committed a crime,” Steffen said. “As a result, local law enforcement may not have the opportunity to follow up and investigate or make an arrest. These people can just walk out of the gun store and illegally get a gun another way.”

Reed said the bill was a good way to cut gun violence.

“It helps to remove illegal guns off our streets by arming investigators with additional information,” Reed said in a statement. “This bill will better protect our residents against those prohibited people who attempt to buy guns. It’s one small step in a much larger fight to end gun violence in our city.”

Reed said that 30 percent of criminals who tried to buy a gun and failed a background check were rearrested within five years.

One person who opposes the bill is Terry Bast, owner of City Firearms, 4251 Chippewa St. 

“I’m not sure I can legally do that,” Bast said in a phone interview before Tuesday’s hearing. “It’s awful stupid, because they haven’t broken a city law.”

In another matter at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee approved a bill calling for redrawing the boundaries of the city’s police districts to make nine smaller districts instead of the current six. Muhammad, the bill’s sponsor, has said the change back to the way it was before 2014 would bring police closer to the people and improve response time.

Police Commissioner John Hayden agreed that the way the districts were divided now wasn’t the best, but he asked for a delay so he could finish the adoption of a new record-keeping system. That should take about six months and take up the time of people who otherwise would develop data needed to make the change. 

But Muhammad said the bill would give police 180 days to put the system into place.

“The reality is that St. Louis is not safer,” he said. “We cannot afford to sit on this. Crime has gone up.”

The committee also held off on making a decision on a bill setting regulations for the city’s use of surveillance technology and requiring the Board of Aldermen to approve surveillance technology.

Muhammad, the bill’s sponsor, will work with Robert Gaskill-Clemons, the city’s chief technology officer. He works in the mayor’s office. 

Gaskill-Clemons said that some of the definitions in the bill were overly broad and that the bill would require thousands of hours to monitor. He said he had worked with the ACLU and the community group Privacy Watch on a report.

Muhammad was angry that Gaskill-Clemons hadn’t contacted him. But Gaskill-Clemons said he hadn’t known until the day before the meeting that Muhammad had a bill on the subject.

Sara Baker, who represented the ACLU of Missouri, said the bill was good and only required the Board of Aldermen to approve any technology plan.

“Right now the city of St. Louis is invading your privacy,” Baker said. “It’s a fact.” 

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