ST. LOUIS (AP) — Republican state legislators and fellow Republican Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt laid out on Tuesday legislative priorities for 2020. Those priorities are aimed at fighting violent urban crime, but the group made it clear that those priorities don’t include stricter gun laws.
Legislative leaders said they’d push for strengthening Missouri’s carjacking statute. They also said they hoped to remove the requirement that forces St. Louis police officers to live in the city, in hopes of boosting officer recruitment and retention.
But many Democratic Missouri legislators as well as St. Louis leaders have called for specific measures to address gun violence, such as allowing the city to adopt its own gun laws that are tougher than the state’s, or requiring a permit to carry a gun, at least in the city.
Senate Pro Tem Dave Schatz indicated that new gun restrictions were off the table in the Republican-controlled Legislature that convenes in January.
“When we talk about guns and taking guns out of law-abiding citizens’ hands, that was never a topic of discussion that we were willing to address,” Schatz said.
St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield all have seen spikes in gun crimes and homicides in recent years. More than a dozen children have been killed in gun violence in St. Louis this year.
St. Louis police Chief John Hayden spoke at the news conference and expressed support for the carjacking proposal and the end to the police residency requirement. But he also cited a need for a law that would require a gun permit. Missouri law contains no requirement for such a permit.
“If people were required to have a permit to carry a gun, I wouldn’t see people on East Grand and Broadway talking on a phone with an AK-47,” Hayden said. “A permit is needed.”
St. Louis had more than 350 carjackings in 2018 and is on pace to equal that number this year. Schmitt said the state lacked a specific carjacking statute, so prosecutors charge suspects with various crimes such as robbery or stealing. He said he supported the establishment of a new charge, motor vehicle hijacking, which would directly address the crime.
Hayden said carjackings were traumatizing to victims and created inconvenience but rarely led to homicides or shootings.
Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-5th Dist., of St. Louis questioned why her Republican colleagues were sidestepping the issue of gun violence that had led to all three Missouri cities’ often being cited as among the most dangerous in the nation.
“We don’t want to infringe on anyone’s Second Amendment rights, but what outstate legislators must understand is that while they use guns to hunt animals and deer, we have young black men and women being hunted by guns in the city of St. Louis,” Nasheed said.
For nearly 50 years, St. Louis police officers have been required to live within the city limits. Schmitt said the residency requirement hindered recruitment and retention of officers. The city currently has more than 125 officer vacancies, and the shortage makes crime-fighting more difficult.
“Removing the residency requirement opens the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department to a larger and more diverse pool of applicants who don’t necessarily live in the city of St. Louis,” Schmitt said.