Proponents of the ill-fated Better Together initiative to merge St. Louis City and County into one unified government advanced a number of arguments why the proposal made sense.
St. Louis would become the ninth largest city in the nation under the plan. But more importantly, combining the two entities could result in savings of $750 million by eliminating duplicative government services and other inefficiencies.
Other compelling arguments included a more unified approach to economic development and public safety, as well as a more efficient use of tax dollars.
Further down the list and discussed more often in private, but just as appealing to many civic and business leaders, was St. Louis would no longer be recognized as the murder capital of the nation if the merger went through.
For years, the city of St. Louis, with a population of about 300,000, has had the highest or second highest homicide rates per capita in the nation, according to FBI statistics. Better Together would mask the problem of St. Louis being the most violent city in the nation by taking in the population of St. Louis County.
All well and good except Better Together collapsed. Gun violence is still out of control in St. Louis. In fact, the situation appears to be getting worse. St. Louis police report that 136 people have been murdered in St. Louis this year. Hundreds more have been injured in violent acts. Most of those involve handguns. That number is sure to be higher by the time you read this.
But St. Louis is back in the national spotlight because a shocking number of those victims of that violence are kids. So far this year, more than a dozen children and teenagers, some as young as 2, have been gunned down in the city this year, according to data compiled by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
They have been shot while playing outside, sitting on their front porches, eating pizza, walking home, and standing near a restaurant, according to news reports. The same kinds of things kids here do every day.
If you don’t believe gun violence in St. Louis is a public health crisis you are ignoring reality. If the slaughter of innocent children doesn’t shock or outrage you then nothing will.
And that’s part of the problem. Even here in Franklin County.
We take for granted or simply accept that parts of St. Louis are violent. It’s been that way for years. It’s just the way it is. We are a mere 50 miles away from arguably one of the most dangerous parts of the country, but for many of us, it may as well be in a different universe.
After all, much of the violent crime is concentrated in certain parts of the city. Most of us here don’t have a reason to go to those parts so we don’t need to concern ourselves with it. As long as the violence doesn’t touch us when we go to Cardinals or Blues games or when we visit the zoo, we don’t care.
But we really should care if St. Louis is the murder capital of the nation. We have a vested interest in the health and vitality of St. Louis — which is the economic engine for the entire state. Many of us commute to jobs in the St. Louis metropolitan region. Local businesses have important connections with suppliers and customers in St. Louis. In many ways, as St. Louis goes, so does Franklin County.
Another reason we should care is that if the violence isn’t held in check, it will spread. Pretty soon it will be in our backyard — just like it has crept further and further to other parts of the city and into St. Louis County. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.
That’s why Franklin County residents should urge their lawmakers to support any efforts to allow St. Louis to enact commonsense gun regulations that may be stricter than state laws. It’s called local control and it used to be one of the fundamental principles cherished by small government conservatives.
That’s probably going to be a tough sell to a state legislature dominated by rural, pro-gun Republicans who are highly influenced by the NRA. Moreover, in recent years, those same lawmakers have shown a propensity for preemption laws which prevent cities and counties from adopting policies that diverge from those of the state.
They may not care that St. Louis is the murder capital of the nation and that its children are being gunned down in its streets.