Ohio gun-rights activist Jeffry Smith walked into the south entrance of the Saint Louis Zoo Saturday wearing an empty gun holster. One other man with an empty holster entered with him. Smith walked to the fountain on the far end of the entryway, took a drink of water, then turned around and walked back outside the zoo’s gates.
Smith originally planned to enter the zoo with a handgun, but decided Friday to wear an empty holster instead after a St. Louis judge issued a temporary restraining order against him and anyone else who might try to test the zoo’s rule against weapons.
According to Smith, a Springfield, Mo. man named Sam Peyton was told to leave the zoo a few weeks ago because he was wearing an empty holster.
“(Peyton) contacted me after this incident on Memorial Day and I was just thunderstruck,” Smith said.
Saint Louis Zoo spokeswoman Susan Gallagher disputed the reason Peyton left the zoo, saying in a statement that “The Zoo does not eject visitors for carrying empty holsters.”
Peyton did not take part in Saturday’s action at the zoo.
A handful of people wearing holstered handguns also attended, but they stayed outside the zoo’s gates. Two of the men said their guns were loaded.
About a dozen people protesting the gun-rights activists also were on hand, carrying signs and chanting. Most were part of the organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“As a mom and a parent, a St. Louisan and as a member of Moms Demand Action I don’t believe that guns belong in the zoo. This is a safe environment, a family-friendly place filled with children,” said Becky Morgan, the group’s leader. “I fully support the Second Amendment and so does our organization, however there are certain places such as schools, playgrounds and zoos where guns simply do not belong.”
Purpose and long-term goals
Smith said that his goal for the day was to bring the restraining order to the attention of Missouri gun owners, and that he hasn’t decided his next legal step.
“I’m hoping that Missouri gun owners look at the filing that the zoo made for the temporary restraining order and they look at the granting of that restraining order as an enormous threat to gun rights in Missouri,” Smith said. “I’m hoping that they recognize that unless they respond to that, this is the sort of overreach on the part of a governmental entity which diminishes rights and privileges which are clearly their’s under the Missouri statutes and the Missouri Constitution.”
According to legal experts interviewed by St. Louis Public Radio, Smith’s belief that he has the right to carry a gun into the zoo could be valid, but until a court decides the matter Missouri law could also be interpreted in the zoo’s favor.
Asked whether he intends to file a lawsuit to set that legal precedent, Smith said he would first have to speak to his attorney.
“There’s only so much that my time and finances allow… I’m hopeful that Missourians recognize the threat that this filing is to the right to keep and bear arms here and they organize and communicate amongst themselves and take action or band together with their time and financial resources to get someone with the appropriate professional skills to take this matter to court,” Smith replied.
Smith said he was also unsure whether he would return to St. Louis to fight the zoo’s restraining order in court on June 22.
Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.