Democratic U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay is introducing a bill aimed at reducing gun violence in urban areas like his hometown of St. Louis, but it faces a difficult path to becoming law with a Republican-led Senate and White House.
Clay said Friday that he is confident that his bill, the Local Public Health and Safety Protection Act, can pass Congress. It likely would face strong opposition from largely conservative state legislatures such as Missouri’s, as well as gun rights advocates. Messages seeking comment from Republican Gov. Mike Parson and from the NRA were not immediately returned.
The measure, co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Illinois, would require any state receiving U.S. Department of Justice public safety grants to allow cities to enact their own gun laws. Missouri is currently among 43 states that prohibit cities from having gun laws stricter than their states, Clay said.
The measure is among many changes needed to address the epidemic of gun violence in cities, Clay said.
“In St. Louis and across the nation, we are faced with an ugly, obscene inescapable truth: Gun violence is a public health emergency,” Clay said. “I’m tired of the violence, I’m tired of the excuses, and I’m tired of our state legislature being either unable or too frightened to do something about gun violence because they’re being held hostage by the NRA (National Rifle Association).”
Democratic St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson, anti-violence activists and top health care leaders stood alongside Clay at a news conference at St. Louis Children’s Hospital to show support for the proposal.
St. Louis Children’s Hospital Chief Medical Officer Dr. Alexis Elward said the facility’s trauma center has treated more than 40 children this year who were critically injured or died from gunshot wounds. Five children have died in shootings in St. Louis this month alone.
Elward said even children who survive the bullets often suffer life-changing harm.
“I’m also a mom,” Elward said. “I am concerned about our community.”
St. Louis typically has one of the highest murder rates in the nation, and June has been a particularly deadly month with 19 homicides so far. For the year, 89 people have been murdered in the city of just over 300,000.
Eighty of the 89 victims were black. St. Louis Public Safety Director Jimmie Edwards said most of the shooters also were black.
“The state legislative bodies have decided that is not important,” Edwards said.
Clay said the bill would allow cities to enact laws such as those requiring background checks, restricting the quantity and type of ammunition, and prohibiting the sale of assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Krewson grew up in the small town of Moberly, Missouri. She said urban areas like St. Louis face challenges “that are separate and distinct from other parts of the state.”
“We need this in the city of St. Louis,” Krewson said.