ST. LOUIS (AP) — A judge is upholding a policy barring visitors from entering St. Louis Zoo with guns, despite pressure from gun-rights advocates who are pushing for firearms restrictions to be lifted at zoos nationwide.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Joan Moriarty ruled Friday that the publicly funded institution fits the state law’s definition of a “gun-free zone.” The decision makes permanent a temporary ban issued in June 2015 after Ohio gun rights activist Jeffry Smith announced plans to lead an armed group into the zoo to challenge its prohibition of guns, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/2sMLAsw ) reports. Missouri residents passed an amendment to the state constitution in 2014 guaranteeing an “unalienable” right to bear arms in the state.
Gun-rights supporters say publicly owned zoos have misinterpreted laws and are illegally banning firearms. Their victories include the Houston Zoo, which was ordered in 2015 to take down signs banning guns. Some zoos, however, have successfully countered calls for policy changes by claiming they can be considered amusement parks, day cares or educational institutions — venues that can legally enforce gun bans in many states.
That’s what happened in St. Louis. Missouri law bans guns in gated amusement parks and the zoo argues that it meets the state definition of an amusement park because it operates a preschool and other educational programs for children.
“The zoo has shown that the safety, patronage and image of the zoo will be compromised if visitors are permitted to carry firearms or other weapons on zoo property, which would significantly harm the level of visitorship, as well as the mission, the public image and autonomy of the zoo as an institution,” Moriarty wrote in her ruling.
Moriarty’s ruling said the zoo’s gun ban does not violate the constitutional rights of gun owners, because it is “narrowly tailored to support a reasonable government purpose” and would survive “strict scrutiny” as stipulated in the 2014 gun rights amendment.
Smith’s lawyer, Jane Hogan, said Monday that she and Smith disagree with the decision and will appeal it to a higher court. She said Moriarty has made an “overly broad” interpretation of the state’s gun laws.
“To say that it’s a school or an amusement park, then any McDonald’s that has a playground would be an amusement park because they have rides and sell food,” Hogan said. “The legislature has given us no guidance here. When they say ‘amusement park,’ we don’t know what they mean because they use ‘place of amusement’ in other statutes. So we have to assume they mean something different.”
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
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