Child shootings lead to call for 'gun court'

ST. LOUIS (KSDK) - Two 11-year-olds shot within one week. St. Louis city leaders say the cases are proof of a major problem. But there are conflicting ideas on the solution. One idea Police Chief Sam Dotson says could work has been nicknamed 'gun court.' Circuit Court Judges recently voted against implementing it. But, the Chief Dotson says he supports it and is not giving up.

Community activists agree something more needs to be done after an 11-year-old girl was rushed to the hospital Tuesday with a gunshot wound to the back. This, less than a week after an 11-year-old boy was shot and killed while sitting in his own home. In both cases, the shooter is still free. But the cases are raising the question, 'will two arrests make a difference?'

"I don't think we can arrest our way out of this," said Better Family Life Vice President James Clark.

It's why Better Family Life is in knocking on doors in high-crime neighborhoods, replacing weapons and drugs with tools to be successful, such as opportunities for education, anger management, and drug treatment programs.

"The sound of social change does not start with a judge's gavel. The sound of social change starts with a knock on the door," Clark said.

But, if that knock comes too late, criminals will have to face a judge. So, Chief Dotson is pushing an armed offender docket, or 'gun court,' to target criminals who repeatedly use weapons.

"To make sure we're getting outcomes that keep the public safe," Dotson said.

And, Chief Dotson says it would help social services organizations like Better Family Life find offenders and try to help them.

Circuit Court Judges have turned down the idea, saying it would slow down all other cases. But, they promised to prioritize gun-related offenses by putting them at the top of their dockets. The court says it's in the process of putting together data to see whether its system is working. But Chief Dotson says, it's not.

"We haven't seen any change in court since asked for armed offender docket," Chief Dotson said.

One thing everyone agrees on though, is that two children shot in one week is a tragic sign that something needs to change.

"We've got to begin to create environments where people are nurtured from birth," Clark said.

Some Missouri legislators are in support of the gun court and hope to come up with a compromise between the judges and the police department. But, they say that effort probably will not happen during the current legislative session.


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