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Byers' Beat: Effort underway to make gun laws more local

Group called Sensible Missouri wants to put ballot measure to voters asking to give local governments power to write gun laws that don't violate second amendment

ST. LOUIS — Byers' Beat is a weekly column written by the I-Team's Christine Byers, who has covered public safety in St. Louis for 15 years. It is intended to offer context and analysis to the week's biggest crime stories and public safety issues.

It didn’t take long for the political jousting to commence after St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announced she was going to try to ban certain types of guns from the city.

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey – a staunch conservative Republican – immediately called out the mayor’s plan as a violation of state law that he would vigorously defend.

But, what if it wasn’t?

That’s what a local group known as Sensible Missouri is hoping to take to voters via a ballot initiative.

The group includes former State Senator Joan Bray, former Judge Jimmie Edwards and renowned University of Missouri-St Louis criminologist Rick Rosenfeld.

They’ve filed three versions of a ballot initiative with the Missouri Secretary of State.

The goal is to ask voters whether to allow local governments – like the St. Louis Board of Aldermen that Mayor Jones hopes to persuade – to regulate guns within their jurisdictions.

“We’re not telling counties what to implement and they don’t have to implement anything if they’re satisfied with the regulations the state currently has,” Rosenfeld explained. “This would provide a local option which is currently not possible.

“Missouri is a preemption state, meaning state law preempts all local ordinances or laws and state firearm regulations apply statewide.”

Rosenfeld said any gun regulations would have to comply with the Second Amendment, Supreme Court limitations on gun regulations and any federal laws.

“(Jones) is not proposing people be deprived of the right to own firearms, so I don’t think the mayor’s proposals are in violation of second amendment, but state officials argue they violate current state law,” Rosenfeld said.

All three versions of the initiative would amend the Missouri Constitution through a statewide vote in November 2024.

But there’s a lot that has to take place before it can even make it to that point.

Polling is now underway to see which version of the question is most appealing to Missouri voters. Once polling concludes, the most popular version of the ballot initiative will be used to collect signatures from voters. And once there are enough signatures, it can be put on the ballot. 

The versions differ in defining which local governments would be granted this authority and how that authority would be adopted into law.

All versions specify the new authority would apply only to Kansas City, Jackson County, St. Louis County and St. Louis City upon adoption of the amendment.

One version limits authority to those urban areas only.

The other two versions give other counties the chance to adopt similar amendments by local ordinance or only after the approval of voters from those counties.

“We realize that one size does not fit all when it comes to guns,” wrote former St. Louis Circuit Judge Jimmie Edwards. “It’s just common sense for local communities to determine their own destiny.

Former State Senator Joan Bray also wrote a statement.

“The issues involving guns that confront urban areas like St. Louis and Kansas City are very different from the issues facing many areas of rural Missouri,” Bray said. “We know Missouri residents understand and respect those differences and believe every local government knows what’s best for its own community.”

St. Louis aldermen Cara Spencer and Rasheen Aldridge recently partnered on an open-carry law that would prohibit people from openly carrying guns.

St. Louis County Council Chairwoman Sholonda Webb has also said she plans to propose similar legislation in the county.

Webb said she’s not interested in pursuing Jones’ idea on banning certain types of weapons.

Rosenfeld said, if the ballot initiative passes, proposals like the ones Jones is floating would be easier to enact.

But no ballot measure will stop political jousting – especially when it comes to gun laws.

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