This year’s legislative whoring for the gun lobby started out innocently enough in Missouri.
The main focus of Missouri Republican politicians was to be an attack on Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. That’s low hanging fruit in Jefferson City. Sure, it’s pointless, hypocritical and unabashedly racist. That’s why they do it.
What’s that about Republicans believing in governing closest to home? And local control? Those lofty ideals weren’t meant to apply to Black women of Gardner’s unyielding persona. Not even a little.
There’s plenty to criticize in Gardner’s work. But she answers for that to an electorate, not overseers from the opposing political party, all feigning their rage from a comfortable distance.
This has nothing to do with crime in St. Louis. A shocking number of homicides don’t even make it to Gardner’s office for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that new stand-your-ground gun laws make it virtually impossible to prosecute firearm crimes.
Much of the criticism of the circuit attorney’s office being poorly run is justified. But the notion that any such shortcomings somehow move the needle on the overall crime rate is just irrational and ludicrous.
Regardless, bashing Gardner is Republicans’ favorite political sport these days. So, they led with that while slipping in their annual shameless favors to make the gun lobby more secure. And Missourians less safe.
The legislative strategy was straightforward: Governor Mike Parson, conveniently a former county sheriff, would be empowered to gut Gardner’s authority by usurping her role on the most serious felony charges. Initially, the concept was that direct, but it became clear to the bill’s sponsors that they would need the fig leaf of writing the bill more broadly. You know, so that the governor would at least have the capability of inflicting this injustice upon any county in the state where he had a problem with the prosecutor.
No one was fooled by any of that; Republicans were after Gardner alone. The political bottom line was obvious: An appointed special prosecutor would be foisted upon the citizens of the City of St. Louis as an upgrade over their elected circuit attorney. What’s not to like if you’re a non-Black person not from St. Louis?
It didn’t go so well. The kind benevolence of white Republicans wasn’t welcomed with the gratitude that overlords customarily require of their fortunate recipients. In this case, representatives of the disenfranchised Black community responded with the anger and indignation one would expect, and to which they were entitled.
But don’t underestimate one thing: The white racial instigators in Jefferson City loved every moment of it. It’s political gold.
Now, far be it from me as a white guy to call any of this racist. The Black House members took care of that. Getting insulted, sometimes inadvertently, is old hat to them.
But then this happened. Representative Kevin Windham (D-St. Louis County), who just happens to be a Black man, had his microphone shut off abruptly on the floor of the House last week by House Speaker Dean Plocher (R-St. Louis County). That&’s the customary response when white members take offense to a Black member’s choice of words.
Apparently, Windham made a reference to systemic racism or some such forbidden subject under the new House “Don’t You Talk Like That About White People” speech code. The Republicans immediately cut off debate, without debate.
That was that. A bill that would enable Parson to supplant an elected prosecutor with an unelected “special prosecutor” — with zero input or approval from the inflicted local jurisdiction — was sent slithering last week to the Senate. Just can’t wait for that debate.
As for the legislation, it rather gave the game away in its definition of what might trigger the governor. In the bill is this:
“The governor would be empowered to call in a special prosecutor if he ‘determines that a threat to public safety and health exists in a circuit or prosecuting attorney’s jurisdiction’ after:
(1) Reviewing federal, state, or local crime statistics; or
(2) Finding that the number of occurrences of homicide cases in the twelve months immediately preceding exceeds a rate of thirty-five cases per every one hundred thousand people within the circuit or prosecuting attorney’s jurisdiction.”
That first one — “reviewing … crime statistics” — pretty much empowers the governor to call in a special prosecutor over cocktails on a beach. If the mere act of reviewing crime statistics is all that’s needed to move on a prosecutor’s turf, it’s superfluous to offer any other metric.
But for whatever reason, the bill does that anyway, and it’s a bit of a tell. The homicides-per-hundred-thousand-people statistic is standard currency in the world of crime numbers. And only one county in the state of Missouri even comes close to hitting 35 cases per hundred thousand.
That, of course is St. Louis, which also suffers the tragic distinction of being just one of four cities in the entire nation exceeding the 35-homicides-per-hundred-thousand figure.
Consider another homicide statistic: In 47 of the past 54 years, the City of St. Louis has had a crime rate exceeding that horrific 35-per-hundred-thousand trigger point, according to Post-Dispatch research. Not since 2003 has St. Louis been below the level cited in the bill. Only seven times dating back to 1970. How far back would they like to blame Gardner?
Obviously, this wasn’t intended to be just about Gardner and St. Louis and race and political cheap thrills. It was about making a statement. But it also included other gun-related matters, including some ideas recommended by a bipartisan working group that sought to carve out new ground with something other than NRA marching orders.
As an example, the state’s 2016 law — enacted over the veto of Governor Jay Nixon — eliminated permit requirements for concealed carry. But those permits were restricted to 19-year-olds and up (except in the case of 18-year-olds serving in the military), so their elimination also removed any age-related rules as to firearm possession.
Real-world impact: If police stop a kid with a firearm, even if the kid is in their early teens or younger, there’s no such thing as taking away that weapon as unauthorized. Any child has free rein to roam the streets packing heat, for real.
So, Representative Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, proposed a modest amendment that would have banned minors from carrying certain firearms on public property without the presence of an adult. The Republicans pulverized it with a vote of 104-39.
And in so doing, Missouri got to make another gun-related statement, and this one wasn’t so pretty. Consider these headlines that I assure you had state economic-development and tourism officials making early exits for the Jefferson City bars after they showed up online:
FromVanity Fair: “Missouri Republicans Vote to Affirm Toddlers’ Right to Carry Firearms in the Streets”
From the Washington Post: “Missouri Republicans block proposed ban on kids carrying guns in public”
From Rolling Stone: “Missouri GOP on Kids Carrying Guns: Yes, Please”
What great public relations for a state that already ranks fourth in the nation for firearm deaths, according to the latest CDC statistics. That will put Missouri on the map, all right. The map of places too dangerous to visit, much less move to.
And to think it all started with just a little exercise in the Republican sport of maligning Kim Gardner for cheap political gain. You just never know when you’re going to shoot yourself in the foot.
Ray Hartmann founded the Riverfront Times in 1977. Contact him at [email protected] or catch him on Donnybrook at 7 p.m. on Thursdays on the Nine Network.
Coming soon: Riverfront Times Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting St. Louis stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.
Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter