Gun Violence Through the Lens of the Law

April 14, 2016

Gun Violence Through the Lens of the Law


Capt. Janice Bockstruck, commander, specialized enforcement, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department

Jennifer Joyce, circuit attorney, city of St. Louis

At a packed meeting, we learned how gun violence is affecting all of us, no matter where we live.

12974328_1122316534487167_7835972375967514366_nCapt. Janice Bockstruck, a  police officer for 27 years, said that in 2015 gun violence killed 178 people in St. Louis, a majority under age 25. Linked to gun violence is an ongoing heroin epidemic (321 overdose deaths in 2015). Heroin users are mainly white, middle or upper class youth, and they often pay for drugs with stolen firearms. With Missouri being a “right to carry state,” many guns are stolen from unattended cars, but heroin users also often steal guns from their families, Bockstruck said.



Jennifer Joyce described promising strategies the city is using to reduce gun violence in St. Louis:



  • Gun court. With fewer judges (three) and dedicated probation and parole officers who work together and share information, this court facilitates tracking and coordinating treatment of nonviolent offenders in the judicial system.
  • Redirect (diversion) Program. The first in the United States, this program is designed to help gun possession offenders avoid the penitentiary, get out of the criminal lifestyle, and obtain skills and jobs so they can become productive citizens.
  • Crime Strategies Unit. In this intelligence-gathering effort, law enforcement officers use social media and other methods to identify criminals, conspiracies to commit crimes, and candidates for the Redirect Program.

What We Can Do

Gun-related crime is everywhere, Bockstruck said, so everyone needs to be vigilant for suspicious activity and report it to the police. Often drug transactions take place in low-crime areas in public places such as malls and parking lots. She advised gun owners to keep a record of the make, model, and serial number of any gun they own in case it is stolen, and to buy a security safe to store a gun left in a car. “Any time someone steals a gun, it’s going to be used in a crime,” she said.

But Women’s Voices members can do much more to prevent gun violence. We can get at the root of the problem: children who are growing up without good role models and structure in their lives, or who are struggling with the toxic stress of living in unsafe environments.

Mentoring these children, Joyce said, can make a huge difference. “All of you have the opportunity to influence young people,” she said, by becoming mentors in programs such as Foster Grandparents, and contributing money to mentoring organizations. Our speakers’ message was clear: Early intervention is critical. As Joyce said, “You can’t police self-esteem into a 17-year-old boy.”