Gun rights advocate poised to challenge zoo’s weapons policy

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ST. LOUIS (KTVI) - A gun rights advocate from Ohio is threatening to lead an armed walk through the St. Louis Zoo to challenge its 'no weapons' policy.

The zoo has long had signs posted at several entrances letting people know to leave their weapons behind.

But when a security guard allegedly threatened to throw a visitor out over the Memorial Day weekend for simply carrying an empty holster into the zoo, some gun rights advocates decided to challenge to zoo`s policy.

The man leading the charge is Jeff Smith, 56, of Cincinnati. He is the same man who led an armed walk through Downtown St. Louis last fall.

Smith says he and some of his friends may gather at the zoo next Wednesday at 1:30 pm to protest the policy, possibly violating it by walking through the zoo carrying guns. On Facebook, he is hinting that guns may not be involved, but even if they are, he posted that long guns would not be welcome.

Smith believes the zoo is using Missouri`s law banning weapons in gated areas of amusement parks as justification for its policy.

Smith does not agree.

'I don`t think it applies. The `Zoological District` is defined in the Missouri Code and `Amusement Park` isn`t, so when you don`t have a definition, use common sense,' Smith said. ‘I don`t think people would call Six Flags a zoo any more than I think people would call the zoo an amusement park.'

The zoo says it will not answer questions about this because it is a legal matter but they did issue a written statement which reads:

'It is the Saint Louis Zoo`s position that all weapons, including concealed firearms, are prohibited within the gated area of the Zoo.   Consistent with all applicable laws, the Saint Louis Zoo has posted signage regarding this issue.  The Saint Louis Zoo relies on numerous state statutes to support our position that weapons are prohibited within the Zoo including but not limited to Section 571.107 of the Missouri Statutes under which the Zoo qualifies under multiple exceptions.'

In the meantime, Smith says he has sent an email to St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson asking him to clarify the law as it applies at the zoo;  something the police department says it is working on with the City Counselor`s office.

Many zoo visitors are unhappy about the threatened armed walk, including Margie Dretsch.

'I am not against guns but there is an appropriate place for everything and the zoo is not one of them,' she said.