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Bill declaring parks gun-free zones passes Board of Aldermen

CITY HALL – People should be able to play in a park in peace. That’s the idea behind a bill officially declaring city parks as gun-free zones that passed the Board of Aldermen on Friday.

The bill handily passed the board in a 16-2 vote, with Third Ward Alderman Brandon Bosley and 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan casting “no” votes. But a handful questioned whether it would keep anybody with intent on using a gun out of a park and whether it might lead to an expensive lawsuit.

Board Bill 134 authorizes the city to place signs in all parks declaring they’re child care facilities, where state law prohibits firearms. 

Twentieth Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, the bill’s sponsor, said police often complained that they couldn’t do anything when people called them and said someone with a gun was in a park.

“Is this the ideal vehicle? Of course not,” Spencer said. “In an ideal world, the state of Missouri would understand the difference between rural Missouri and the city of St. Louis.

“I think we can recognize that the city of St. Louis is experiencing a health crisis in gun violence. We have too many guns proliferating every single aspect of our existence.”

“I’m sad to say that my 8-year-old can tell the difference between a gunshot and a firecracker. This is no way to live,” Spencer said. “We all live in fear of guns in every corner of our city. At the very least, our parks should be gun-free zones where our families and our children can experience a safe environment and one that is free from gun violence.”

Twenty-Third Ward Alderman Joseph Vaccaro voted for the legislation but questioned whether it would do any good.

“The people that legally carry guns may honor that, but now we’re making a safe zone for the guys that illegally carry guns and come in to shoot somebody, realizing that they’ve got a pretty open target, and nobody else will have a gun,” Vaccaro said. 

Narayan said that he agreed with the concept but that the way the bill intended to do it didn’t work.

“It doesn’t add up to our common-sense definition of a park,” Narayan said. “We’re essentially allocating taxpayer dollars to something that is almost certain to get overturned in the legal challenges that will certainly be coming.”

However, 18th Ward Alderman Jesse Todd, who co-sponsored Spencer’s bill, said the bill would increase safety in parks.

“Our parks should be a place where families can go safely, where we emphasize equipment, baseball bats, picnics,” Todd said. “Guns shouldn’t be allowed in any parks. That’s no place for guns.”

In other action, aldermen took an initial vote in favor of a bill that outlaws the declawing of cats. The vote was 18-1, with only Vaccaro opposing it. 

The measure would also prohibit keeping animals outside when it’s 32 degrees or below or 93 degrees or higher. It also allows a combination of dog parks and restaurants with a variance.

Vaccaro said he agreed with everything in the bill except the part about declawing.

“I can’t support the part that says you can’t take your cat to have it declawed, because that’s a personal choice,” Vaccaro said. The sponsor, Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, turned down Vaccaro’s request to take that part out of the bill.

“The thought that declawing cats is to anyone’s benefit is outdated,” Ingrassia said.

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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