Gun courts in play, but first effort misfires


Panel members at the Urban Crime Summit included Sam Dotson, police chief of St. Louis; St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay; Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forte; and Kansas City Major Sly James.

By Joe Lambe

The Kansas City mayor, the Jackson County prosecutor and the U.S. attorney in Kansas City on Tuesday spoke in in favor of creating a Jackson County court docket for only gun cases. They commented at an urban crime summit at UMKC, just a day after St. Louis judges voted down a proposal to create an “armed offender docket” there.

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster says the gun courts are likely to be among recommendations that come out of the four-day crime summit. It is looking at ways to reduce violent crime in the two cites, which have among the nation’s highest homicide rates.

The St. Louis proposal would have created two courts to handle gun offenses like armed robbery, carrying a concealed weapon, felon in possession, flourishing and unlawful use of a weapon.

People arrested for those crimes would have faced high cash-only bonds and fast-track criminal trials, and it would have allowed researchers to study outcomes.

The St. Louis mayor, police chief and some of its some of its 28 circuit judges supported gun court, but not enough. It lost 16-11 in a vote of the judges.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who is on the urban justice panel, was critical of the vote Tuesday at the justice summit.

“When you catch a 13-year-old with a gun in his hand and he says everyone else has one,” Slay said, “we need to send a message that this is not something we will tolerate.”

Jackson County prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said she saw gun court as a “necessary component to make an impact on violent crime rates.”

It also would allow study of what we are doing, she said. “I don’t know why we wouldn’t want that tool.”

Koster said if even a purse snatcher with a gun would suddenly get the first trial position instead of months of delay, “I think it would wake people up.”

Tammy Dickinson, U.S. attorney in Kansas City, said high bonds, faster trials and mandatory minimum sentences with the gun courts would mesh with federal court practices.

“The defendants fear … the federal model,” she said, not the “catch and release” practices of many state courts.

Mayor Sly James said, “In regard to the research, we’ve been here two days talking about evidence based policing – that’s the data we need.”

A special court with fast trial also sends a message gun violence will not be tolerated, he said.

Then he saw a Jackson County judge in the audience and yelled to Judge Edith Messina, “Please help us out on this; we’re going to need some help.”

Comments are closed.