Zoo Wants Man Who Challenged Gun-Free Policy To Pay Legal Bills

Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

A trip to the zoo is one of those things kids almost always seem to clamor for. They love seeing all the animals.

In a city like St. Louis, though, any outing comes with some risks. After all, it has a crime rate that makes Chicago look like Portland, Maine. So if you want to go to the zoo or anywhere else, I can understand why you’d want a gun.

Unfortunately, the St. Louis Zoo is a gun-free zone.

One man went to court to try and change that, as gun-rights activists tend to do. He lost, though, which is less than great.

Now, though, the zoo is trying to add insult to injury.

After successfully defending its weapons ban in court, the Saint Louis Zoo is now trying to force the gun-rights activist who challenged the ban to pay part of its $150,000 in legal bills.

The zoo filed a request for its request for legal fees in August, but a judge has yet to rule on the motion.

An attorney for the man who filed the original suit, Jeffery Smith, called the motion unfair.

What it is, though, is an attempt to punish Smith for daring to question their gun-free zone standing.

The question then arises as to whether he will end up on the hook for the fees. I can’t comment on that because I’m not an attorney, I’m not that familiar with the relevant laws in Missouri, and I didn’t stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

However, I don’t see why he should be on the hook.

The zoo ended up winning because the court ruled they fell under an exemption for schools and gated amusement parks. However, a zoo isn’t actually a school and I’ve never really thought of most of them as theme parks. While zoological theme parks are a thing, there are also some serious differences as well.

It should be noted that the Saint Louis Zoo doesn’t make Wikipedia’s list of such theme parks, either.

As such, there’s ample reason to believe the zoo shouldn’t have been a legal gun-free zone under Missouri state law. While the court ruled otherwise, Smith’s lawsuit was clearly a good-faith attempt and addressing a legal injustice.

For him to be required to pay even part of the legal fees would ultimately have a chilling effect on other efforts in trying to address potential ambiguities of the law.

I believe that’s ultimately the point.

I think what’s happening here is that the zoo wants to punish Mr. Smith for having the temerity to take issue with its status as a gun-free zone. It wants to send a signal that such lawsuits cannot and will not be tolerated. Whether it’s from zoo officials or the city that owns it, but it’s clear this is about punishing people who ask the wrong questions by filing lawsuits.

It’ll have a chilling effect and that’s the entire goal.

As such, my hope is that the judge sees this and dismisses the motion.