Gun Rights Advocates Want Firearms in Zoos, Will Challenge St. Louis Judge

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Activists hold placards outside the George R Brown Convention Center, the site of the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting, in Houston, May 4, 2013. Reuters/Adrees Latif

Gun rights advocates are demanding people be allowed to carry firearms into public zoos nationwide.

Their calls for packing pistols while viewing caged animals had a setback on Friday, however, when a judge in St. Louis ruled in favor of retaining a ban on firearms at the St. Louis Zoo.

“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,” Judge Joan Moriarty wrote in her ruling, which was seen by the Associated Press on Monday.

Judge Moriarty’s ruling, in which she found the zoo gun ban was not unconstitutional, upholds a temporary ban that came into force in June 2015, after Ohio gun rights activist Jeffry Smith said he was planning to go into the zoo with a group of armed people in order to challenge the zoo’s gun ban.

Smith and other gun rights advocates believes zoos are misinterpreting the law and are banning firearms unnecessarily, the AP reported.

A number of zoos believe they fall under the remit of amusement parks or day care or educational institutions, meaning they are allowed to prohibit firearms from being carried on their premises.

Indeed, Moriarty said the zoo was both an educational institution and an amusement park, and as such could retain the firearms ban, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported.

Smith claims this is not the case, and previous gun rights challenges to zoos have been upheld in some cases, including at Houston Zoo, which was told to take down signs banning guns.

“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,” Smith’s lawyer, Jane Hogan, told the AP on Monday.

“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,” she added.

Smith is planning to challenge the court’s decision on the state’s gun laws, and will appeal to a higher court.