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Council runs into barrage from gun-rights activists over gun-safety measure to protect children

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 13, 2010 - What looked to St. Louis County Chairwoman Barbara Fraser like a simple act to protect children is seen by gun-rights activists as a challenge to their right to bear arms.

Tuesday night, after hearing several activists air such views, Fraser opted to postpone a vote on a proposed ordinance change dealing with child endangerment.

The proposal, co-sponsored by Fraser and Councilwoman Hazel Erby, adds to the county's "petty offenses code'' a new section aimed at outlawing certain activities seen as endangering children.

Those activities include:

-- "Intentionally or recklessly operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance...while a child is present in the vehicle."

-- Knowingly causing or permitting a child to be present where any person is unlawfully selling, manufacturing, possessing or using either a controlled substance...or drug paraphenalia;"

-- "Intentionally or recklessly committing an act of domestic assault or domestic violation of an order of protection in the visual or auditory presence of a child;"

-- "Intentionally or recklessly storing or leaving a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm and ammunition within the reach or easy access of a child unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device."

The latter provision is what brought out Fred W. Heberer of O'Fallon, who's president of the Second Amendment Coalition of Missouri. 

He was among several speakers who told the council that the proposal's wording was unclear; "who determines what's 'intentional or reckless,'' Heberer asked.

The critics also said the provision may run afoul of a state law that limits what localities can do regarding gun regulations. Heberer said that the state of Missouri has a law that bars local jurisidictions from governing gun rights, except "where a gun is discharged and where it can be carried."

One man asserted that workplaces might be safer if more workers carried concealed weapons.

Heberer said in an interview that it also should be up to the parents to determine how they will protect their children from guns. Some older children, he said, may have enough acquaintance with guns that they can be trusted to use them safely.

Heberer acknowledged that some parents may be irresponsible with guns, "but punishing others is not the answer."

After the council meeting, Fraser said she was confident the proposed ordinance complied with state laws, but she was willing to wait a week so that some of the concerns voiced by gun-rights activists be examined.

Fraser, who is running for the state Senate, said the proposed ordinance focused on a number of illegal behaviors and wasn't targeting gun owners.

In any case, she added, "I have no doubt that it will pass."

Heberer said he had no doubt that other national and regional gun-rights groups will also get involved to fight the proposal.

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