by Sam Levin
It has been a particularly heated week for gun debates. In Missouri, a Republican outcry about gun owner privacy in Missouri sparked a major policy change and a high-profile resignation. Nationally, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a background check proposal, angering even some longtime NRA members.
But with a whole lot less fanfare, Republican State Senator Eric Schmitt has pushed forward with a legislative proposal this week that he hopes could have a significant impact on reducing violence by revamping the prosecution of firearm offenses.
And he's got the support of many high-profile officials in St. Louis, including Mayor Francis Slay, Judge Jack Garvey, Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce and Police Chief Sam Dotson.
As we reported last month, Schmitt's Senate Bill 448 creates a so-called "special armed offender docket" in the circuit court of St. Louis city. The idea is to take a more targeted approach to gun violence by assigning two dedicated judges to offenses involving guns through a special docket.
The thinking is that this reform could allow the courts to better track and study trends of gun violences, helped in part by having judges with more institutional knowledge about the problem and offenders before them. (And the bill includes a provision that every six months, the court would publish a formal public report on the docket).
"The gravity of the problem deserves a unique solution and I think we have it here," Schmitt tells Daily RFT. "It's really important for people in the city to feel safe working there and living there...and for us to get a handle on gun violence."
As his Republican colleagues continue to advance more symbolic proposals to protect the Second Amendment and block all gun control, Schmitt has had some success moving his bill forward -- but time is running out in the final weeks of the session.
On Wednesday, his bill was voted out of the Senate judiciary committee by a vote of six-zero and his office is now pushing to get it the floor for a full vote. That move out of committee came after a hearing in which key officials from St. Louis spoke out in favor of the idea.
In a recent interview, Slay tells Daily RFT that this is a unique opportunity for a city reform that could help tackle the problem of gun violence.
Continue for our interview with Mayor Slay and for the full proposal.
"We've got to do what we can at the local level. We have limited ability, because gun laws are preempted by the state and federal government," Slay says, "but if we can have a gun docket, so that if you commit a crime in the city of St. Louis, we will pay special attention to you, to make sure that we send a message that we will not tolerate gun crimes in the city of St. Louis."
Is the mayor confident it will move forward?
"We've got a tough state legislature. We certainly can't be overconfident about anything," he says. "I think that it's sound. It makes sense. It goes after people who are using guns illegally in our city. And I would hope that there's bipartisan support for that.... But I don't take any of that for granted."
Here's a statement Circuit Attorney Joyce sent Daily RFT recently when we asked for her take on the proposal:
I support the creation of an Armed Offender Docket, a specialized trial division whose purpose would be to deliver a comprehensive and evidence-based judicial response to the chronic and unacceptably high incidence of gun violence in the City of St. Louis. Too many offenders use weapons to target their victims. This pattern of behavior must be stopped. The Circuit Attorney and Mayor's staff are working to identity and put in place resources to staff an Armed Offender Court should it pass the Legislature.
Here's the latest version of the bill.