Troubling rise of gun violence in St. Louis, Kansas City

In this Sept. 19, 2017 photo, St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson holds a news conference at city hall in St. Louis. At a news conference Saturday, Krewson said the city is suffering a rash of child deaths by gunfire this summer and will offer a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the killing of four children.

ST. LOUIS — From huge rewards to calls for allowing Missouri cities to enact their own gun laws, leaders in St. Louis and Kansas City are grappling with a troubling rise in shooting deaths, especially those involving children.

This past weekend was especially violent. In Kansas City, four men were killed Sunday, including two in a drive-by shooting in a popular entertainment district. In St. Louis, six people were killed in shootings, including 8-year-old and 10-year-old girls and a 15-year-old boy.

Many of the victims of violence in the state’s two largest cities are black, and black Missouri lawmakers are asking Republican Gov. Mike Parson to allow the House and Senate to consider during a special session next month legislation that would let cities adopt their own gun control measures. In a letter dated Saturday, state Rep. Steven Roberts Jr., a St. Louis Democrat who chairs the 19-member Missouri Black Caucus, told Parson that local leaders need the autonomy to act as they see fit on “this pressing crisis.”

Kansas City — Missouri’s largest city with 490,000 residents, about 30% of whom are black — has recorded 97 homicides this year, on pace to top last year’s homicide rate of 143. Sixty-eight of this year’s victims were black.

St. Louis has seen about 128 homicides this year, also on pace to top last year’s total of 186. The vast majority those killed this year — 112 victims — were black in a city where about half of the 320,000 residents are black.

At least a dozen children have been shot to death in St. Louis since April, many of them in drive-by shootings, and the city is offering $25,000 rewards for information in five recent fatal shootings of children.

“We ask you and our rural colleagues to recognize that the slaughter of children in our state, and the hundreds of other victims of gun violence, demand immediate solutions that will produce results for our communities,” Roberts wrote in his request to Parson.

An email message left Monday with Parson’s spokeswoman was not immediately returned.

Republican Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz doubted the Legislature would take up the proposal.

“I think we would all agree we would like to find a way to end the type of gun violence that we see going on, but you’re going to have to show proof of something that’s been effective and worked somewhere, and not doing something just for the purposes of doing something,” Schatz said.

“Guns don’t do these acts,” Schatz said. “People do them, and unfortunately they use guns to do some of these horrific things.”

Republican House Speaker Elijah Haahr didn’t immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment.

Top St. Louis officials also believe Missouri’s lenient gun laws are a factor in the upsurge of killings. Mayor Lyda Krewson noted that Missouri, in 2017, became the first state to allow people to carry guns without a permit.

“Now almost anyone can carry a gun almost anywhere, anytime,” Krewson said. “That makes the job for police officers particularly difficult.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner blamed lax gun laws as well as a “sense of hopelessness” in many neighborhoods that has “fostered an environment where too many young people have little or no regard for their own lives or the lives of others.”

Krewson said city officials hoped the unusually high rewards for information leading to the arrests of suspects in child shootings would spur reluctant witnesses who may fear retaliation to come forward. Ninety-three of the city’s homicides this year remain unsolved.

This month alone, the victims have included Xavier Usanga a 7-year-old boy shot in the yard of his home on Aug. 12; 8-year-old Jurnee Thompson, killed Friday when gunfire erupted after a high school football exhibition; and, Nyla Banks, a 10-year-old girl found dead Saturday evening along with two adults inside an apartment building.

St. Louis saw just four killings last year involving children 16 or younger, according to police statistics.

Kansas City leaders are alarmed by a rise in homicides in the city’s popular nightlife areas, including the early Sunday deaths of Austin Michael Quijas and Leo Moreno Jr. in the Power & Light District downtown.

State Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove, a Kansas City Democrat, called it shameful that St. Louis and Kansas City both consistently rank among the deadliest U.S. cities.

“This is now a public health crisis,” Manlove said in a statement.

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