September 21, 2019

Webster Groves mayor questions state gun laws

“This afternoon, we could have someone walking down the streets of Webster Groves with an AK-47 over their shoulder, and there’s nothing you can do about that,” Welch said.

When Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons released a statement saying he would not hold a special session of the state legislature to address gun violence, Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch knew she had to take things into her own hands.

Welch said the Webster Groves City Council made a goal to explore how to reduce gun violence. While Webster Groves may be a relatively safe community, Welch added, the violence in the area still affects her. This summer’s murders, especially those of children like Xavier Usanga who was shot, make Welch think of children like her own niece in Arkansas.

Usanga was shot while playing in his backyard. Welch said she feels concerned about children growing up in a world where their peers are being killed.

“These kids are so traumatized now,” Welch said.

Welch said the state legislature needs to allow local government the power to take measures to protect their own citizens. To do that, the state legislature would have to repeal preemptive gun laws that prohibit cities from passing such laws. 

Additionally, Welch said the state needs to reform the permit system for gun registration. Welch also said she wants the state to take a stance on “weapons of mass destruction,” like AK-47s.

Webster Groves Mayor Gerry Welch will meet with the Metro Mayors on Sep. 12 to discuss the future of gun reform in the St. Louis metro area.

“I don’t know what we need to do to appeal to our state legislators about this ‘open carry without permits’ on any street in the state,” Welch said. “I mean, this afternoon, we could have someone walking down the streets of Webster Groves with an AK-47 over their shoulder, and there’s nothing you can do about that. Those are weapons of mass destruction.”

Welch said there is a difference between the weapons of mass destruction, like AK-47s, and hunting rifles or pistols that people take to ranges.

Welch said her hands are tied at the local level. According to Welch, only state legislators can pass gun reform in Missouri. When politicians refuse to do that, Welch and other local politicians have to get creative, she said. Welch said she watched Pittsburgh this past year to see its response to the Tree of Life synagogue shooting, where 11 people lost their lives.

Pennsylvania, like Missouri, passed preemptive measures preventing city governments from passing their own gun laws. That did not stop Pittsburgh from passing their own gun reform legislation, however.

Pittsburgh approved three bills, according to Pittsburgh director of communications Timothy McNulty. The first two bills ban assault weapons and the use of high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and other accessories used in gun massacres. The third bill adopts “extreme risk protection orders,” also known as red flag orders, that allow courts to temporarily take guns away from those proven to be a risk to themselves or others.

“All are common-sense regulations that we contend are legal and obviously needed to keep our city and others safe,” McNulty said.

However, the three new laws have since been challenged in court.

“The firearms regulations were in response to the murders of 11 congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in October of last year,” McNulty said. “State and federal officials have not been courageous enough to take on the gun lobby, so Pittsburgh had no choice but to do its own legislation.”

According to McNulty, Pittsburgh has tried a law requiring residents to report lost and stolen firearms.  However, that has also been tied up in court challenges.

Welch said she lived two blocks from the Tree of Life synagogue for the four years she lived in Pittsburgh.

“We knew that Jewish community really well, so it really hit me pretty hard,” Welch said.

McNulty said Pittsburgh representatives have reached out to cities of varying sizes and populations for feedback and advice. In the St. Louis area, Welch works with the Metro Mayors, a group of mayors of cities larger than 10,000 people.

“When your hands are tied, there are only so many things you can do,” Welch said. “One of those things you can do is join together with all those others whose hands are tied. You can try to do something together.”        

Welch said she has talked to enough local mayors to know there is interest in working together in Missouri. At the Sep. 12 Metro Mayors meeting, Welch and other area mayors will discuss their options.

For the people who say banning AK-47s and assault weapons infringes on Second Amendment rights, Welch had one thing to say:

“There are other rights that we have as individuals: the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and all those other things that supercede this ability to walk around with this weapon of mass destruction,” Welch said.

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