Hartmann: A Smart Idea on Guns (That Nobody Will Try)

Gun Rights

With the trauma of gun violence ravaging St. Louis, there’s one topic that seems to have escaped everyone’s attention in the race for simplistic solutions.


Missouri being Missouri, the local shouting match is dominated by Republican demands for “law-and-order” — somewhere Tricky Dick is flashing that creepy grin — and cracking down on bad guys.

Meanwhile, that national consensus after George Floyd’s murder about the need for reforms in policing has been reduced to a few protesters’ signs carried in the gunsights of the Vigiloskeys.

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But it’s really beyond the point for the moment whether St. Louis’ gun-violence epidemic might be diminished by reform efforts that at least have a pulse in other states. Addressing the causes rather than the symptoms of gun violence is at least temporarily taboo. None of that is open for discussion under Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

And let’s be clear: Talking about gun control would be deadly politics for Democrats right now, and I’m not suggesting they do so. If ever a messaging war was lost in the political arena, it’s the one for common-sense gun control. Hopefully that will change someday, but not in the next nine weeks.

That doesn’t change our reality: There are too many guns among us. A great many of those are military-grade weapons that shouldn’t be in the hands of civilians, and by the way, pose a much greater daily threat to the health of police officers than any Black Lives Matter protest ever did.

Every time another baby is murdered in the city of St. Louis — or so many other souls are victimized by carnage — it’s not unreasonable to wonder aloud a simple question: What if there weren’t so many guns?

In a nation of roughly 329 million people, there are roughly 400 million firearms, based upon recent estimates that place gun ownership at 120,500 guns per 100,000 people — babies included — in America. That translates to 12.21 deaths per 100,000 people — babies included — in our nation.

One need not expect America to emulate an outlier such as Japan, which has 600 firearms and .04 firearm deaths, respectively, per 100,000 inhabitants. We’re not going there. But as of 2017, the U.S. had more than six times the rate of gun-related deaths than Canada (2 per 100,000) and nearly four times as many firearms in circulation (Canada’s rate was 34,700 per 100,000). That’s worth pondering.

We have too many guns. That’s especially true in urban areas which suffer disproportionately from poverty, neglect and discrimination in education, health care, policing and all manner of indices. That produces disproportionate crime, which in turn produces disproportionate possession of firearms — used disproportionately for illegal activities.

This isn’t rocket science. Even if St. Louis’ challenges relative to guns and crime were remotely similar to small cities and towns in rural Missouri — and they most certainly are not — there would be no rational basis for assuming a one-size-fits-all policy to these matters makes a whit of sense.

We should have gun control in St. Louis.

So, I’m going to talk about guns.

It might come as a surprise for you to know it, but I’m both a gun owner and “supporter” of the Second Amendment. For those who haven’t read it lately, here’s what it says: “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Here’s what it doesn’t say: “We, the Founding Fathers, hereby proclaim that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and unlike any other Amendment, shall not be subject to ANY future law that might clarify it.”

It also doesn’t read, “Out of concern that the government will someday be coming for our guns, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

It also doesn’t read, “The right of the people to possess military arsenals equal to that of the government shall not be infringed.”
It also doesn’t read, “The right of the people to possess military-grade equipment capable of killing hundreds of people within a minute shall not be infringed.”

The Second Amendment does not provide for the unlimited and unrelated possession of all armaments, no more than the First Amendment protects as free speech threatening to assassinate people or incitement to riot. Reasonable gun-control measures do not “destroy” the Second Amendment any more than outlawing ritual sacrifices “destroys” First Amendment religious freedom.

In today’s political environment, however, can anything be done about the fact that there are too many guns, especially lethal ones, in cities like St. Louis? Even with the National Rifle Association distracted with trying to reconcile Reptile-in-Chief Wayne LaPierre’s $275,000 Zegna budget and all those luxury trips to yachts off the Bahamas and those African safaris (well, “at least they involved killing”), there’s not much hope here.

But people should not give up on doing something about the proliferation and the dire consequences of too many guns — especially the military-style ones — in our midst. The noise of an election dominated by Trumpian red-meat noise will subside long before the gun epidemic does.

In that regard, I was speaking about this to former Judge Mike Wolff, a good friend and one of the brightest and most respected legal minds ever to grace St. Louis. Wolff, who served as chief justice of the Missouri Supreme Court, legal counsel to the late Governor Mel Carnahan and dean of the St. Louis University Law School, shares my concern about guns.

The difference between us is that he has the bona fides to get people to listen. Wolff wants to see Missouri’s state constitution amended with provisions that would enable the cities of St. Louis and Kansas City (and neighboring St. Louis and Jackson counties) to be allowed — at local discretion — to require a “gun safety certificate” and registration for each firearm possessed.

Wolff would hardly restrict the ability of most citizens to possess their guns. The exceptions would be people who have “a criminal felony record or a judgment involving domestic violence, or a record that is known to law enforcement of violent acts associated with mental illness.” Wolff would also require online certification for those from outside St. Louis and Kansas City who would like to bring firearms to those cities.

Wolff also proposes that the city and county establish a joint Office of Gun Safety to issue permits and background checks. This sort of cooperation is hardly unprecedented in criminal justice activity: The REGIS data system, the Major Case Squad and combined 911 services each provides a prototype.

Any of those ideas would be subject to voter approvals in the respective jurisdictions. And while none of the ideas is likely to get enacted anytime soon, they’re worth considering even while getting drowned out by the most depressing election campaign of our lifetimes.

Unrealistic? You bet.

But tell that to the family of the next baby who gets shot in St. Louis.

Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at rhartmann@sbcglobal.net or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network and St. Louis In the Know With Ray Hartmann from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday thru Friday on KTRS (550 AM).

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