Ohio gun nut Jeffry Smith has had to alter his weekend plans slightly, after a judge threw a wrench into his plan for an open carry protest at the St. Louis zoo.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Smith planned to go to the zoo wearing a .45 caliber pistol in a holster, and he encouraged others to join him. Unlike other open carry demonstrations, Smith asked everybody to bring holstered pistols, and not long guns. The idea was to challenge the St. Louis zoo’s policy prohibiting firearms on the grounds.
On Friday, June 12, judge Joan Moriarty issued a restraining order that will remain in effect until a hearing on June 22. That order, sought by zoo management, stops Smith and other open carry supporters from bringing weapons to the zoo. Smith says that he will still go to the zoo, but wearing an empty holster.
At issue is a Missouri law which specifies four types of areas where guns can be restricted: day care facilities, educational facilities, amusement parks, and any public business which posts a sign saying that guns are not permitted. Smith argues that the zoo is publicly owned land, and therefore it cannot restrict guns.
The zoo says that it is an “educational institution,” because of a pre-school that operates on the property, and because it regularly plays host to school groups. It also has amusement park type rides, which may, in the eyes of the law, qualify it for the amusement park exemption.
In a perverse bit of logic, Smith says that the restraining order is a victory for him, because it forces the zoo to explain their policy on guns. He tells the Post-Dispatch, “I consider this a win. It’s a win in that they have finally shown their hand.”
Some gun rights advocates disagree with Smith.
St. Louis police chief Sam Dotson tells KMOV, “More guns are never the answer. I think we need to have stronger gun laws and make sure that they are used in appropriate ways.”
Steven King, who owns a gun store, and who is a former police officer, tells KMOV,
I just thought this guy is a total idiot. He’s speaking from the ‘gun community,’ and I don’t think he’s speaking for all of us. When you’re in a public place, and you’re trying to push your ideas on people who may not agree with you, I think that does more harm than good.
King has cut to the core of the issue. Open carry activists like Smith may actually be hurting their cause by displaying weapons in places such as zoos. Many parents do not want their children around guns. This was evident in the number of calls received by the St. Louis zoo from those who said they would remove their children from educational programs there if the zoo begins allowing weapons.
As the internet meme observes, a crazed killer with a gun looks just like an open carry activist with a gun. Even “good guys with guns” probably can’t tell another “good guy with a gun” from someone who is moments away from a killing spree. Gun nuts like Smith expect people to feel comfortable around those who are carrying assault rifles and other military type weapons, and take it on faith that they’re all “good guys with guns.”
What is the purpose of bringing a gun to a zoo, anyway? To protect yourself from a charging rhino? Because you want to play “big game hunter?” Because you think biker gangs like to frequent zoos? To keep kids from butting in the cotton candy line?
Here’s a report on Smith’s planned protest, and the restraining order against him, from KMOV:
Featured image via St. Louis Zoo