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Government, Politics & Issues

Slay favors federal and state action to curb gun violence; area senators split over the issue

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 25, 2013 - As St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay listens to the talk in Jefferson City and Washington about gun violence, his fear is that the talk won’t lead to action.

“I hope something comes out of it,’’ Slay said in an interview, “I hope ‘nothing’ does not come out of it. What I’m very concerned is that nothing comes out of it.”

“I think the president is really heading in the right direction,” the mayor added. That point is shared, by the way, with Slay’s chief Democratic rival in the March 5 primary, Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed.

Reed campaign manager Glenn Burleigh says that when it comes to gun issues, “there’s probably not any daylight’’ between Slay, Reed and the White House.

On a state level, Slay’s legislative allies are pressing a bill – that the mayor supports – that would impose maximum bail and stiffer sentences on people who use guns during a crime. Another provision would require gun owners to report any lost or stolen firearm.

Thirdly, the mayor also wants legislators in Jefferson City to consider allowing St. Louis and Kansas “some responsibility over gun regulations in their communities.”

Such urban control has been curbed ever since the General Assembly in 2003 overturned a ban against carrying concealed weapons.

As for Washington, Slay said he supports President Barack Obama’s chief proposals.

Besides favoring background checks for prospective gun owners, the mayor said, “I support a ban on assault weapons. I support a ban on extended magazines (of bullets). I support a ban on armor-piercing bullets.”

But the mayor also agrees with some conservatives that there needs to be a stronger focus – and action – on mental health services.

In a recent survey of inmates at the city jail, Slay said that “49 percent were on some sort of psychiatric medication.” He suspects similar high percentages among the homeless, based on his recent visits to area shelters.

Slay’s comments come amid continued discussion among area members of Congress, particularly those in the U.S. Senate, which is expected to be the first to take up any gun-related issues.

Views vary among region's senators

Among the senators in Illinois and Missouri, there’s a range of views.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is a cosponsor of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s bill to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. Feinstein, D-Calif., also is proposing to ban for civilian use the production of magazines that can fire more than 10 bullets.

Durbin calls the proposed restrictions “one of the common sense, measured steps that we can take to help reduce gun violence…”

He noted that assault weapons and high-capacity gun clips were “used to commit mass slaughter in places like Newtown and Aurora and in violent crimes in neighborhoods in Illinois and across the country. Our children and our law enforcement officers should not have to face these powerful weapons.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said she welcomes the discussion, but she appears to be pursuing a possible middle ground.

“I don’t want to close off compromises that could occur during this process,” she said. “I think there is much more agreement about the gun show loophole and background checks” than about re-instating the assault rifle ban, which expired in 2004.

“We now have the technology to do a much better job of making sure that we are keeping guns out of the hands of those that have serious and significant mental health issues and those who have criminal backgrounds,” she continued. “I think we need to use that technology and do that more effectively.”

Blunt, meanwhile, reaffirmed to reporters this week that he opposes any gun restrictions, but that he is involved in talks about possible legislation related to mental health, violence, and proper notification.

“I’ve been having a number of discussions on the mental health issue, and I think it’s going to produce some legislation and, hopefully, some successful movement in the direction where we can better deal with mental health problems,” Blunt said.

He said he would oppose any legislation that would require a state or national registry of all firearms.“I would be shocked in our state, and I wouldn’t be for anything nationally that requires a registry of firearms,” Blunt said. “I think that’s a pretty big step away from the Second Amendment” and would pass neither the U.S. Congress nor Missouri General Assembly.

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