Proposed child endangerment law referred to County Council panel

A County Council committee will review the child endangerment law proposed for St. Louis County to ensure that it agrees with state statutes.

Fifth District Council Chair Barbara Fraser, D-University City, last week sent the pending new child endangerment section for the county’s petty offenses code to the Justice and Health Committee for further scrutiny.

“Certainly we want the bill to be legal,” Fraser said.

She and 1st District Councilman Hazel Erby, D-University City, are co-sponsoring the associated legislation in what they say is an effort to protect children.

But the bill has been criticized by gun-control opponents who believe a provision in the new section that would regulate firearm storage is more stringent than Missouri gun laws, which supersede all local ordinances.

Missouri law prohibits child endangerment, but the state doesn’t take every case, County Counselor Patricia Redington has said. The pending ordinance would give officials the teeth to prosecute child endangerment cases in the county courts, she said. 

The ordinance language identifies and prohibits the following behavior as child endangerment:

• “Intentionally or recklessly operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or a controlled substance while a child is present in the vehicle.”

• “Knowingly causing or permitting a child to be present where any person is selling, manufacturing, possessing or using a controlled substance or drug paraphernalia.”

• “Intentionally or recklessly committing an act of domestic assault or domestic violation of an order of protection in the visual or auditory presence of a child.”

• “Intentionally or recklessly storing or leaving a loaded firearm or an unloaded firearm and ammunition within the reach or easy access of a child unless such weapon is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant safety device so as to render the weapon inoperable by anyone other than the lawfully authorized user.”

Critics believe the fourth provision poses a threat to those who lawfully own firearms.

Section 21.750 of the Missouri Revised Statutes states, in part, “No county, city, town, village, municipality or other political subdivision of this state shall adopt any order, ordinance or regulation concerning in any way the sale, purchase, purchase delay, transfer, ownership, use, keeping, possession, bearing, transportation, licensing, permit, registration, taxation other than sales and compensating use taxes or other controls on firearms, components, ammunition and supplies.”

The state law only exempts local laws that govern unlawful possession of a firearm and regulate the “open carrying of firearms readily capable of lethal use or the discharge of firearms within a jurisdiction.”

The Justice and Health Committee is comprised of Fraser, Erby and 3rd District Councilman Colleen Wasinger, R-Town and Country.