Open carry supporters walk through downtown St. Louis

ST. LOUIS - Downtown St. Louis once again served as the backdrop to a group of people meeting for a cause.

Saturday, dozens walked toward the Gateway Arch with their firearms in tow.

Ohio man, Jeffry Smith, organized the Open Carry/Firearms Educational Walk. He planned the event to recognize recent changes to Missouri's constitution and gun laws.

"It is to exercise those rights, it is to put them to the test, and it is to educate the public that sees this going on and asks questions of us," Smith said.

Missouri voters passed Amendment 5 this year, which calls the right to bear arms an "unalienable right." Missouri lawmakers also passed legislation this year that overrules any ordinance banning open carry in the state.

"The state of Missouri has, among the 50 states, the strongest constitutional amendment in regard to the right to keep and bear arms," Smith said.

Ahead of the event, many posed a question to the group's Facebook page, asking if they should bring their concealed carry permit at the walk. Smith said different members of the group felt differently about it.

"There are people here who would be willing to show a permit if they had one and there are people here, like myself, who would not be willing to even say if I had a permit or not," Smith said. "And the reason for that is, when you're exercising a constitutional right, you don't need to identify yourself, you don't need a slip of paper, whether its laminated or not from a governmental entity, saying that you have a right to do that."

Richard Lofftus, who is from the St. Louis area, helped Smith organize the event. He said the amendment and the new law will make communities safer.

"I believe there is a consistent reduction in crime as legal gun ownership goes up. The criminal element to crime and guns typically involves illegal gun ownership or illegal use," Lofftus said.

Lofftus said he has been working with state lawmakers for years to make open-carry legal in Missouri. Voters approved Amendment 5 by 61 percent. Last month, opponents asked the state Supreme Court to overturn those election results

"The laws are for the irresponsible people. The responsible people don't need a law to know it's wrong to kill somebody," Lofftus said.

Some city, state officials oppose new changes

St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson said Friday, he department would work with the group like they would during any other downtown event, but would not support the goals of the group.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay held a press conference after the walk Saturday.

"What you saw on the streets of St. Louis today, was like a scene out of a bad western," he said, surrounded by women representing "Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America" and State Representative Stacey Newman.

The mayor dismissed Saturdays demonstrators as "extremists"

"This is a very bad law, as far as I'm concerned, and those who are with me today. I don't even have to explain, I don't think, how bad it is, how much anxiety and fear it will create, and the possibility that something could go very wrong."

He continued."In rural areas, it might not be so bad. But in a densely populated city or a suburb, it is a disaster waiting to happen."

"More guns is not the answer," said Rep. Newman (D-District 87), who referenced a deadly school shooting in Washington State this week as she spoke.

Several Missouri cities previously prohibited open carry, but the new amendment nullifies those bans.

"I stand right here in the city where we deal with gun violence over and over , almost every night, knowing that more guns is not the answer," Rep. Newman said.

A peaceful walk

Several protesters, many who have been active in Ferguson and Shaw, also showed up to the walk. Some stood nearby, quietly holding signs or capturing images on cell phones. Others engaged in various discussions with the gun advocates.

The event remained peaceful, and police said there were no incidents or arrests during the walk.


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