First St. Louis was too fat. Then we were too violent. Then our fair city was said to be toxic and polluted. Now are our companies too liberal?
If appearing on the National Rifle Association's anti-gun list is the standard, then companies headquartered in the Lou must be the most left-wing in the nation, trouncing corporations in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
The list, which was released late last fall, identifies 44 "prominent national corporations that have lent their corporate support to gun control or [a] position on gun control." It includes five health-care providers, five companies in the entertainment business, four sports teams, four financial services and brokerage houses and three telecommunications companies. As an added bonus, the NRA supplies addresses, phone numbers and Web sites and identifies the corporate heads.
No fewer than fifteen of the companies are headquartered in St. Louis. Ten more can be found in Kansas City -- add them together and the Show-Me state appears to be the most progressive in the Union. New York City ostensibly has just three anti-gun corporations; Los Angeles and San Francisco are tied at two.
So just who are the offending companies?
Schnucks, the "friendliest stores in town," is not one of the NRA's pals. Lori Willis, director of communications for Schnucks Markets, says she's aware that the grocery chain is on the list.
"I really don't know what criteria the NRA used to put together that list," she adds, though she does have a hunch: "It might stem from our opposition back in 1999 to the conceal-and-carry law."
At the time of that debate over the proposed state law, Willis explains, Schnucks was concerned about public safety in its stores. But after Missourians defeated the concealed-weapon initiative, voters in Indiana, Tennessee and Mississippi -- where the corporation also operates grocery stores -- passed similar measures. Would patrons trade gunfire over the ripest Fuji apples? Store managers held their breath.
But in the ensuing years, Willis notes, the company's concerns proved "not to be an issue," and when a new concealed-carry initiative came before voters last year, the company took no official position on the matter. (The state legislature passed the newer version, which is now being challenged in the Missouri Supreme Court as a violation of the state's constitution.)
When asked what the company thinks about being on the NRA enemies roster, Willis says, "Obviously, we'd prefer not to be on anybody's list."
The St. Louis Cardinals -- clearly preferring peanuts to pistols -- also made the list, likely because of their own official opposition to the 1999 bill.
Says Melody Yount, media services coordinator for the team: "The first time around when the gun bill was out, there wasn't an exception for sports stadiums." That changed in 2003, Yount goes on, when the state legislature added the exception to the ballot measure. Fans who wanted to accessorize for a Cubs game by tucking a Smith & Wesson in their waistbands would have to find other sartorial flourishes. With that concern removed, the Cardinals opted to stay out of the fray.
The Rams, according to the NRA, also shun guns. Team representatives didn't return phone calls for this story, but they had other business to attend to as they armed themselves for their NFC playoff game against the Carolina Panthers this past weekend.
That leaves firearms fans cheering for the St. Louis Blues. The city's NHL franchise is not on the list.
The NRA did, however, take aim at healthcare groups. Of the five targeted, three are locally based: BJC Health Systems, SSM Health System and Unity Health. Saint Louis University was also in the line of fire, as well as life-insurance company General American. Even chemical giant Mallinckrodt, well known for its role in supplying enriched uranium for the Manhattan Project, is allegedly hostile to the NRA's Second Amendment fervor.
Though St. Louis dominates the corporate section of the document, it doesn't rate high in other NRA-designated categories. There's a section for "organizations" that includes the AARP, the ACLU, the AMA, the NEA, the YWCA, the American Bar Association, the American Jewish Association and the United States Catholic Conference, among others. A section devoted to "anti-gun individuals and celebrities" boasts Missourian Sheryl Crow, as well as former St. Louisans Kate Capshaw and Kevin Kline, but they're lost in a sea of more than 300 names. The "national figures" section includes Disney CEO Michael Eisner and former president Jimmy Carter, MTV president Tom Freston and Nickelodeon president Herb Scannel. Though it contains 28 names, there's no one from our fair city.
And the "journalist" section, devoted to those who've written editorials that aren't pro-gun, features not one single St. Louis or Missouri journalist.
Calls to the NRA to find out how they prepared the list, and why, were not returned.
Concerned about the impact of a liberal taint on a town known for its Midwestern values, the Riverfront Times also called the St. Louis Convention and Visitors Bureau. Mary Hendron, the bureau's director of public relations, is very reassuring. She doesn't think supporters of the pro-gun lobby will boycott the river city. In fact, she believes the list is "pretty meaningless."
"Somebody deciding where they're going to vacation doesn't scour the list," she points out. Nor are they likely to peruse any of the many rankings that have cast St. Louis in a negative light.
Then, without skipping a beat, Hendron launches into a sales pitch about the "very, very cool" Lewis and Clark exhibit opening at the Missouri History Museum on January 14.
"There are twenty-five ways to explore the exhibit," she says. "There's a list for you!"
Correction published 1/28/04: In the original version of this story, we erroneously reported that the current concealed-carry initiative was approved by Missouri voters. The above version reflects the corrected text.