For the past 20 years, Kansas gun rights activists have successfully legalized concealed weapons without a license, blocked attempts to pass “red flag” laws to allow law enforcement to remove guns for people in crisis and, this spring alone, eliminated most cover-up charges. licenses.
Their latest effort is to take official proclamations to raise awareness of gun violence.
The NRA-affiliated Kansas State Rifle Association sent letters last week to officials in Roeland Park and Parsons, in the southwest of the state, opposing proclamations marking June as Rifle Awareness Month. gun violence and June 2 as Gun Violence Awareness Day. Both commemorations are nationally recognized.
Proclamations are non-binding messages of support and solidarity for victims of gun violence. They say “supporting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding people goes hand in hand with keeping guns away from people with dangerous backgrounds” and encourage residents to support local efforts to prevent gun violence.
But the KSRA describes the statements as part of an effort by the “radical gun control lobby” to enlist local governments in a push to restrict gun rights. The letters point to the national organization Moms Demand Action and other groups advocating for additional gun restrictions and safety measures for critics.
“If Roeland Park or any other local unit of government chooses to go beyond allowing national gun control groups to use government resources to promote their extreme agenda and further take steps to limiting the rights of law-abiding gun owners to defend themselves against violent crimes, you can be assured that the Kansas State Rifle Association will not sit idly by,” KSRA Director Moriah Day wrote in a letter.
“Rest assured; we will defend the rights of potential victims to defend themselves with every fiber of our being.
The pushback effort, directed at localities, underscores just how successful gun rights activists in Kansas have been in loosening state gun laws over the past two decades. Even measured expressions of concern over the toll of gun violence are enough to elicit strong rebuke.
Roeland Park Mayor Michael Poppa, who signed his city’s proclamation, said the purpose of the document was to acknowledge that gun violence exists.
“He recognizes that responsible, law-abiding gun owners have a right to have their guns under the Second Amendment,” said Poppa, who is also a director of the Kansas Mainstream Coalition.
“But he also acknowledges that we don’t – we don’t have any type of security protocol in place to make sure guns don’t end up in the hands of people with dangerous backgrounds. So it was very clear. »
Poppa also said he interpreted Day’s comments about how the Rifle Association would react if Roeland Park took further action as a threat. Kansas lawmakers have already largely removed the power of localities to make gun rules more restrictive than state law.
Even a leading Republican seemed less alarmed by the proclamations than the KSRA.
“I personally don’t care what localities do with it,” Kansas Senate Speaker Ty Masterson, a Republican from Andover, said Thursday. “I don’t even know what to tell him.”
Similar proclamations and messages were also issued by Prairie Village, Leawood, De Soto, Junction City, Lenexa and Mission, according to a Facebook post from Moms Demand Action. The Shawnee Mission School District also issued a proclamation.
The KSRA has only highlighted the Roeland Park and Parsons proclamations on its website.
“No Kansan should be comfortable with the fact that these local governments are doing everything possible to blame the violence on inanimate objects, responsible gun owners and other law-abiding Kansan rather than to devote all their time and resources to fighting. crime and arrest violent criminals who are the real problem,” the KSRA said on its website.
Day did not return a call Thursday.
Gun Violence Awareness Day is associated with Wear Orange, a national campaign that honors Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old girl who was fatally shot on a Chicago playground in 2013 shortly after participating in the second inaugural parade of President Barack Obama.
“Wear Orange is an annual activation to honor lives cut short by gun violence — like my son, Felix, who was shot and killed, and is honored each year at this event,” said Everytown senior researcher Mary Snipes. Survivor Network and a volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action. Felix was shot in Junction City in 2018.
“Gun violence impacts everyone and responsible gun owners recognize the importance and value of raising awareness about this issue. To crush recognition of the real impact of the gun violence epidemic on people is a truly weak act,” Snipes said in a statement. “As gun violence tears families apart across the country, survivors of tragedy have a right to be heard and we have a responsibility to listen and act to find life-saving solutions.”
The upcoming awareness day and month comes against a national backdrop of regular mass shootings. Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of an elementary school shooting in which a former student fatally shot 19 students and two teachers. Over the weekend, a shooting at a Kansas City nightclub left three people dead and two injured.
Yet mass shootings are only a fraction of gun violence. Just over 500 people died from firearms in Kansas in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a death rate of 17.3 per 100,000 people.
The number of gun deaths in Kansas has increased in recent years. In 2014, 329 people died.
Kansas State Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, Democrat of Lenexa and former Kansas chapter chief of Moms Demand, suggested that the lack of official action on gun safety only draws more attention to gun violence.
“As more and more people in this country know someone who has been affected by gun violence…they experience it, so the movement grows, unfortunately, because we’re not taking action,” said Whoa.
“So I think it’s possible that they’re just scratching and grabbing straws to try and do something with them.”
Kansas lawmakers have gradually reduced the limits for decades, reverting to their vote to allow concealed weapons in 2006.
In 2015, lawmakers voted to allow people 21 and older to carry concealed weapons without a permit. In 2021, the legislature lowered the age of concealment to 18 due to Democratic Governor Laura Kelly’s veto, although people between the ages of 18 and 20 must still obtain a license.
At the same time, GOP lawmakers blocked “red flag” bills that would give courts more power to temporarily remove guns from people who pose a threat to themselves or others.
More recently, a few weeks ago, the Legislative Assembly passed a bill waiving a $116 fee for people who choose to obtain a permit. The fee reduction was a signature issue of Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican, and Kelly signed the bill.
“We had this proclamation on our agenda for at least four years, if I remember correctly,” Poppa said. “And this is the first year that there has been a reaction from the NRA, from the Kansas State Rifle Association.”
The Star’s Katie Bernard contributed reporting