“Bang!” You’re dead!
It happens just that quickly. It comes at you without warning. Sometimes you aren’t even the target. You may be innocent of any wrong- a child in a home or on a bike. You could be guilty of a perceived slight. You might be a co-conspirator. Doesn’t matter because a bullet doesn’t care. It simply goes where it was aimed, not stopping until it comes into contact with an object or body, there to do its simple job – to kill!
So why can’t we stop these little lead projectiles from doing their deadly damage? For years we have tried.
Gun Bounty and Buy Back programs haven’t brought down the deadly numbers. No one turns in their real guns anyway – just the old broken ones for which they have no use, or, in some instances, guns that have been used in crimes. Vigils haven’t quieted the noise of gunfire, despite the fact that they have been prolific and mournful. More police? More pleas? Haven’t worked.
Since 2008, 512 people have been the victim of a gun-related homicides in Kansas City. Of that number, the vast majority were victims of a gun in the hands of someone bent on revenge, caught in a fit of rage or consumed by evil intent. Often those who pull the trigger lack education, a job or hope. They frequently see no value in their life, so why should they care about yours?
For decades we have spawned these shooters. Too many times we have failed to educate them, thereby depriving them of vital tools they need to compete in an increasingly complicated world. All along the way, the adults in charge have failed to take the necessary steps to break the cycle of an education system that has been inefficient at best. I am not making excuses for criminals here. But I am asserting that a gap exists between what we KNOW and how we ACT, or more often than not, fail to act.
We KNOW that education makes a huge difference, and yet we have failed to ACT to make sure that every child in this city has access to quality early childhood education and beyond.
We KNOW that too many children enter kindergarten without the skills necessary to succeed there.
We KNOW that 85% of a child’s brain is formed by the age 5.
We KNOW that we spend only $9,000 a year on the early learning part of his life but we are willing to spend $30,000 a year or more on the prison time of his life. Which option has the best return on investment?
We KNOW poor urban kids – especially black and brown ones, especially boys- hear 30,000,000 fewer (Yep – million!) words than their suburban peers.
We KNOW that only 33.8% of third graders in our city of 14 school districts are proficient in reading.
We KNOW that people who build prison cells predict how many they’ll need based on THIRD GRADE READING PROFICIENCY. If you’re not reading well in third grade, you are four times less likely to graduate from high school. You’ll be under-employed. If you’re male, you also have a greater chance of dying young, or going to prison – especially if you are urban, poor and black or brown.
We KNOW that’s bad!
We KNOW all of this information means that this child may not be able to problem solve, discern blue from black or purple, sit still long enough for a story, make eye contact, shake hands, express feelings appropriately, count, read or otherwise be ready for kindergarten. That fact alone is predictive of a less than proficient third grader.
Ultimately, we found a better way to help every child by working to make sure they all read at grade level by third-grade. We formed Turn The Page KC. We, through a board of committed volunteers, work with 50 partners including LINC, libraries, UNI, United Way, and area school districts. Hundreds of volunteers have been recruited to read thousands of books to children. We collect and analyze data on the children as we go to determine what works best. The best crime fighting strategy is a job and the best way to get a good paying job is through a quality education. Please join this effort to enhance educational outcomes for our community’s youngest residents.
We also ACTED when we expanded the Bright Futures program to offer more paid city internships to teens and young adults. We ACTED when we imposed a curfew and created the Mayor’s Nights programming, including CLUB KC, to give middle schoolers and teens a safe place to hang out and have fun on summer nights. Over 7500 kids participated in CLUB KC in 2012 and not one of them heard “BANG!” and died!
We KNOW that we have to educate our children and that we must provide more jobs for teens and young adults. There is no doubt about either of these imperatives; however, that is not all we must do to stop gun violence in this city. We must reduce the number of illegal guns on our streets.
I can hear the protests and the “nattering nabobs of negativism” now. They won’t like even the discussion of relieving gun-toting individuals of their illegal guns. “Stopping even idiots from owning illegal guns,” they will say, “will lead to government taking my legal gun from my law-abiding hands before they are cold and/or dead.”
Naysayers can even argue with the Harvard School of Public Health which states:
Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S. where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.
Miller, Matthew; Azrael, Deborah; Hemenway, David. State-level homicide victimization rates in the U.S. in relation to survey measures of household firearm ownership, 2001-2003. Social Science and Medicine, 2007, 64: 656-64.
I know, “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Or so we are told. But how do we then explain that countries in which gun ownership is highest also have the highest per capita rate of firearm-related homicides? According to the Washington Post published December 17, 2012, “The United States has the highest gun ownership rate in the world and the highest per capita rate of firearm-related murders of all developed countries.” You will see a long and detailed chart in this article that supports that thesis.
With all that said, I’m not suggesting that we rid the country of all firearms. I simply argue that cities like ours, St. Louis, and others with gun-related homicide issues be allowed to take reasonable steps to eliminate illegal guns from our city streets and cars.
I don’t oppose law-abiding citizens owning guns as long as they go through a reasonable background check when they legally purchase or acquire the gun, they are licensed, know how to use it and safeguard kids who could access the gun. Why is any of that unreasonable? So why not do it? Because, under Missouri law, we cannot take any action affecting or interfering with the ownership, purchase, use, possession, regulation of any weapon or bullets, regardless of size, type, intended use or purpose.
Despite the fact that over the past five years, we have had 512 gun related homicides averaging 102.4 per year, we have never had any effective ability to limit the number of illegal guns on our streets. I’m not interested in gutting the 2nd amendment; I’m only interested in stopping the killings in this city. Can anyone seriously deny the connection between the high number of homicides and the high number of illegal guns in the hands of idiots? If we see that correlation, doesn’t it make sense to act to break it?
We can and should, as a city, have the ability to have laws and ordinances that address our specific circumstances.
My proposal is simple and designed solely to help make this city safer:
Require universal background checks for all gun sales and transfers;
Impose mandatory reporting and identification of stolen guns;
Enact limitations on guns in cars;
Create Gun Courts to vigorously and swiftly prosecute idiots who use illegal guns in criminal acts; and
Ban assault weapons in vehicle passenger compartments in the city.
None of these proposals deny a law abiding citizen gun ownership, nonetheless, I expect them to be met by some with vehement protestations and anger. But fear not upset friends. Nothing that I have proposed is very likely to be enacted in Missouri. You see, the Missouri legislature has made it legally impossible for cities like Kansas City or St. Louis to do anything substantive to stem the tsunami of illegal guns into the hands of criminal idiots on city streets.
I don’t harbor any illusions that the legislative scheme will change anytime soon. If Newtown didn’t wake this country up, my proposals won’t change our laws. Nonetheless, I can’t simply sit back and say and do nothing while we watch slow motion mass murder happen on our streets year after year. I’m sick of it. Families of murdered children, fathers, husbands, wives, and mothers are sick of it.
We may be limited in how we can regulate guns, but we are not limited in our ability to build strong relationships between the community and the KCPD. We also have a network of social services, like job training and drug treatment, that can go far in helping individuals find a life outside of crime. KC NoVA does both of those things. Today, the stakeholders of KC NoVA reaffirmed their commitment to fighting crime in our City. This is about more than only throwing people in jail – it’s also about offering those individuals the option to reshape their lives so that we have more people contributing to the community and fewer shooting guns at each other. We are not deterred by the recent violence we’ve all read about in the news. On the contrary, we are emboldened by it.
Once again there is a huge gulf between what we KNOW and how we ACT in light of that knowledge.
That is our reality. What we can do now is have a tough conversation about what to do going forward. I have spoken openly and passionately about this before and I want to address everyone who asks what I am doing in the wake of all this recent tragedy.
The tools we do have to reduce crime, Turn the Page KC and KC NoVA, require collective, sustained effort from the entire community. There is no quick fix to the issue of gun violence, but that doesn’t mean we can throw our hands up in the air and give up. These two community initiatives require buy-in from every resident, business, church, and nonprofit in Kansas City.
Without that, my hands remain tied.