You asked. I’m answering: What are we doing about gun violence in KC?

“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.

34 thoughts on “You asked. I’m answering: What are we doing about gun violence in KC?

  1. I’m in, Mayor. All sound reasonable ideas. I think we all need to be open to compromise and a little inconvenience to make our community a safe place to live and raise our children and grandchildren.

    • We all accept the statement that “Freedom isn’t free” we’ll, neither is safety. Nothing I have proposed interferes with the rights of the law abiding citizen. Thank you for your support on this important issue.

      • Wrong, mayor. Education is good, but violating the US Constitution by making people prove they’re worty of having guns, and all the other anti-gun blather you spouted is bad. What you are espousing is making it harder for law-abiding people to defend themselves and others, while not affecting the criminals one whit. New “gun laws” don’t help because, in case you haven’t noticed, criminals don’t obey the law.

        You cited the Harvard School of Public Health, which is a notoriously anti-gun organization; anything they say about guns has to be taken with a pound or two of salt – citing a study of theirs makes you look like a fool or a tool, rather than making you look credible.

  2. Thank you again Mayor James for your commitment to making KC a safer and better place to live. You are absolutely right about community having a hand a changing the issues of gun violence in KC. It’s sad that our Government has made it so hard for you as the Mayor to effect changes with this issue. I see and have seen kids in this community that have such a harsh way of life, because their parents are on hard drugs or in jail. I’ve seen kids with no beds to sleep in at night, no food to eat before of after school, no one for them to talk to, about everyday struggles a young person maybe going through. I’ve seen kids with no guidance what so ever, out here in the world trying to make it, because they have no one in their corner. These kids will either rise up and make something of themselves or they fall into that dark corner of society that plagues us today. The problems we face as a community go so deep, and it will take all of the community to make a difference by parenting kids that have no parents. We need to also reach out to parents, they need guidance, they need to know that they can be a huge part in changing the behaviors of our community, remember, ” it takes a village.” Sorry to go on and on, but I’ve helped children through the years, when my son was in school from elementary to high school, kids have come to my house to spend the night, only to find them still at my house through most of their school days, because we had heat, or cold air and food always. Because they needed someone to listen to them, or guide them in their young lives. Kids looks to us (adults) for answer’s and when we can’t be there for them in most crucial ways, then ask yourself what are they left with? Another thing, teachers are not influencing kids the way they need to be influenced. I’ll never forget walking into my son’s fifth grade class and seeing, and hearing that teacher telling the kids how worthless they are, telling them they have no future because they are black, no matter how hard you work someone will always be there to bring you down. I mean I was floored, and I went to the school principle right away to make a complaint. I also removed my son from that class. This is just one example of the what keeps our youth so down and feeling like the world is against them. We really need to work hard in making life for kids better at home, at school and in the community as a whole with a lot more programs that reflect social issues, like building good character, social skills and so on. God Bless you Mayor James, for all your hard work, I hope and pray our community will support you efforts.

    • I hear you! If things are going to change, we, the community, will have to make it so. Parent education is key to educating our youth. Teachers can’t stand in for parents but we have to insist that we look at the entire situation affecting kids and resolve to make it better. Thank you so much for your thoughts!!

  3. I would like to know more specifics. I totally agree with several of the steps, but have questions on 2. Limit guns in cars? Cars are target of criminals. I have my CCW, should I expect any limitations in my own car? Personally I don’t believe we should require a CCW in your car, just a legally owned weapon. Your car is an extension of your home. Second is the “assault weapon” in passenger compartments. First, I own a semi-automatic AR-15. I own it for home defense due to the simple fact that it’s accurate and .223 frangible ammo doesn’t overpenetrate walls, which is in turn safer for those in other rooms or near by homes in the event of a home invasion. With that being said, if I can’t transport my AR in a passenger compartment, how do I get it to the range and practice safe operation of my weapon? Also, I respond to acts of violence and shootings with my career. I urge you to look at the statistics and check how many of the 512 killings involved a semi-automatic rifle.

    • I checked that stats for 2012 and 11 of the 108 killings was done by a “rifle”…going after AR-15’s will not reduce the crime rate by a single digit. I purchased one for the exact same reason you did.

    • Thank you for your for transporting your AR-15 to the range, can’t you do that with the weapon inthe trunk? As for vehicles in cars, I work with police officers who would rather not walk up to cars in the dark wondering about weapons in the vehicle. Remember, I’m talking about illegal guns and the people who use them. I am simply responding to the fact that we have proliferate gun violence and lots of illegal guns floating. There is clearly a logical connection.

      • No sir, I own a pickup truck. I’d rather not leave my $1900 rifle in the bed of it for just anyone to grab. I don’t want my legally owned rifle to become one of the many illegally possessed guns on the streets.

  4. The problem is drugs and the answer is not stricter gun laws. The problem is as long as you have an illegal market for selling drugs you will in turn have gangs. Gangs breed violence and if you think that background checks will help curb the violence in this city you are completely out of touch. I hate the violence but if they are already breaking the law why would you ever think more laws would make any difference. Please help the victims of this senseless violence.

    • On what facts do you conclude ( apparently) that gangs and drugs are the sole source of gun violence? If you are wrong in that assumption, then how do you address the issue of illegal guns?

      • Read the DoJ statistics – firearms violence is not 100% drug gang/criminal-on-criminal, but it’s pretty close to that number.

        Eliminate the Federal “war on drugs” and you’ll eliminate the upwardly-mobile career path for young, undereducated, minorities who find the illegal drug industry a highly attractive business career.

      • Mayor what is an illegal gun? I have guns which were purchased from FFL dealers and I use them all legally. If somebody steals one of my guns and uses it illegally that doesn’t make the gun illegal, but the act of the person illegal. I see you belong to Michael Bloomberg’s radical left wing group “Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns.” That in itself gives me reason not to vote for you in the next election. If you haven’t been following Bloomberg’s objective, let me bring you up to speed. He has stated his object is to confiscate all firearms from the citizens of the USA. Saying he is against illegal guns is just a rue as there is no such thing, only illegal use of guns. You should put all your marbles into catching the criminals and keeping them instead of letting them back out on the street.

  5. The problem is not the guns. You said it yourself. The problem goes way deeper then that on several different things. One is the entitlement mentality brought to you courtesy of the democrat party there only for their power. The welfare system. The fact that most of these young men do not have a good father figure in their life because they procreate to generate more income. There is no easy fix and these kids are the suffering for their parents poor choices in life. The parents are not entirely to blame because they are following what they are told they should do by the politicians who do not have their best interest at heart. I do believe Mr James is trying to do something positive and not just in it for the politics. But it will take much greater changes in Washington and for the people who vote for these crooks to wake up. Emanuel Cleaver does not have your best interest at heart, only his. Same thing goes for Claire McCaskill. Until people realize that it will stay this way for many many years.

  6. Registration of all firearms is likely the only answer. Law abiding citizens should not have an issue with registration. I have no problem with concealed carry permits. I have a problem with unregistered, untrackable, untraceable weapons. I have a problem with unregistered transfer of firearm ownership. If an individual is not restricted from legally purchasing a gun and intends to use it in a lawful manner, I cannot see any justification against registration other than paranoia. Perhaps paranoia should be listed among exclusions for firearm ownership. Possession of an unregistered gun should be illegal. Registration should be FEE FREE. This isn’t a revenue generator, the savings in crime would likely pay for any administrative costs. Additionally, Insurance companies could take the lead here and be excluded from coverage of unregistered guns. Additional clauses in auto, home and life should be allowed to deny benefit or coverage due to possession or storage of unregistered guns. Most policies have an automatic exclusion regarding commission of a crime negating coverage. (That would get some attention!) The penalty for mere possession of unregistered firearms should be confiscation. Not a fine. Not jail. Confiscation, period. Keep it simple. This would not impact any current firearms offenses currently on the books. It won’t stop the crime but it will lead to faster resolution and enhanced traceability of firearms related offenses. Unfortunately it will take years to reduce the number of illegal weapons on our streets, but it’s a start.

    • You’re looking at the wrong people. *Criminals* do not, and will not, register their guns. So what’s the point of making the law-abiding do so? The only logical conclusion is that, down the road somewhere, your “logical next step” is gun confiscation from the law-abiding (while the criminals retain theirs, since they’re not on any list).

      Don’t give me the Big Lie that legal gun registration lists will never be used to confiscate guns. We’ve already seen both California and New York do exactly that – after making that same Big Lie promise. Canada did it, too. Both states are currently working on doing it again – changing the state laws on which guns are allowable (under the Constitution, they *all* are, BTW), and then confiscating the newly-illegal ones using the registration lists.

  7. “Create Gun Courts to vigorously and swiftly prosecute idiots who use illegal guns in criminal acts” Mr. Mayor, this is the only proposal you make that I agree with. The rest of your “proposals” will not reduce gun crimes in our city. I saw your piece on the news the other day. You indicated that everyone wants to talk about “gun violence” but does not want to discuss or talk about “guns”. Sure, lets have the discussion about guns and gun facts. Look at Chicago for example. Very strict gun laws and that city is exploding with gun violence. You want to face the facts and truth? From what I understand, and I am doing more research to confirm this, most gun violence in our city is black on black, gang on gang killings. I live in Brookside and all the crime in our area is commited, mainly, by young black males. Our house and our neighbors have all been broken into. Houses have been robbed with residents sleeping in their beds. The vast majority of these crimes, again, are by young black males. So, is there a “violence” probem in the black community…lets compare facts and let the facts answer that question. The 3 young black males that ram sacked our home aged from 13, 15 and 21 years old. The 15 year had broken into 50 houses in three months according to the police. When we called the prosecutors office, I shared my concerns about the lack of prosectutions of these criminals…Jean Peters Baker indicated that “KC likes to be a city of second chances”…All you are doing is looking for something to pound your chest on, to get another term. All you are doing is grand standing to keep your job. Please, lets talk guns, but lets talk facts..I agree with the other poster that AR-15, or so called “assault riles”, are rarely used in any crimes in the US and in KC…FBI stats prove that more folks are killed with hammers and bats than “assault rifles”… You try to make your case by providing a study from Harvard that indicates that USA has a high suicide rate and the method of death was a gun. Look at countries like Japan, that have high suicide rates and have very strict gun laws. Then you say that you do not want to take guns out of America. So, are the folks that commited suicide criminals…if not, then they have a right to a gun, and yes, they may have used that gun on themselves…You completely contradict yourself on that thought. So, yes Mr. Mayor let’s talk guns…put up the facts or shut up! Thank you! My apologies if typo’s etc. 😉


    Well, well, well… looks like my concerns about gun violence and the black community are correct..nearly 8 out 10 acts of violence with a gun was committed by someone from the black community…Don’t play the race card on me folks! I am married to a minority American and hire minorities and have many minority friends that I admire and respect…You want to talk about it Mr. Mayor lets talk about it but lets talk about the facts…also, the vast majority of the gun related crimes are committed with hand guns..go figure!

  9. I have a gut feeling my comments will not make it past the “moderator” Let’s wait and see if that is indeed true! 😉

    • Yes, your comments made it past the moderator. Not at all sure what point you were trying to make though. I am glad, however, that you have a minority spouse and friends, but not sure what point that was meant to convey about getting illegal guns off the streets of this city. The data is clear that gun violence is disproportionate in black, latino and poor communities. That fact has been known for years. Also a fact that most of the violence is with handguns. Perhaps I missed the point you were trying to make?

  10. Mayor James, you admit that these guns you claim are a problem are “illegal guns.” So how is the state hampering you from enforcing laws on guns that are already against the law? So what would introducing more laws that hamper the access of people that don’t break the laws, that don’t hurt people, do to change anything in KC? The guns are already illegal. Murder is illegal. Brandishing irresponsibly is already illegal. Gangsters shooting other gangsters is already illegal. So what on earth are you complaining about?

    • Simple. State law prohibits cities from doing anything to address any guns, illegal or not. We cannot regulate, impose harsher sentences, nothing. How does a background check hamper any legit person who wants a gun? How is a legit person harmed by reporting a stolen gun to the police? Should everyone be able to drive around the city with a laded gun in the car?

      • How does a background check do any good when done on a “legit person who wants a gun”. Background checks *do not stop criminals* – they don’t _do_ background checks. So what is your reasoning on checking everybody else?

        Yes, everyone should be allowed to drive around the city with a loaded gun. If nothing else, the US Constitution recognizes that right. If the police find a criminal with a firearm, loaded or otherwise, in a car or elsewhere, the law certainly allows them to be arrested and prosecuted for it. Having a law that says criminals can’t have a loaded gun in their car certainly won’t stop them, will it? It will only stop the law-abiding who have a right to have it. Who are trying to stop Mr.Mayor? The criminals, or the 99.99% of your city’s citizens who are *not* criminals?

  11. Mayor, I’m glad that you are talking about this issue. We the people must A.I.M for change. Awareness, Involvement and Motivation. Together we can change the situation that we collectively face. We must address the issue of illegal guns be readily available on our streets and how they are becoming so readily available. Community Changing Advocates, a not for profit that I am apart of and that I founded, is working to bring awareness to this issue. We have some good ideas of how we can attack this issue. Let’s work together. Let’s meet to discuss our ideas. Our our email: Also we will be attending the AIM for peace event host by KC on July 13th.

    • There is no issue with guns being readily available. Over the last few decades, as Concealed Carry has become universal and gun sales have skyrocketed, crime has gone done.

  12. Thank you Mr. Mayor for your thoughtful and articulate summation of the problem of gun violence, not only in Kansas city, but throughout America. If every city in this country had a mayor with the same degree of compassion for its citizens and concern for our epidemic of gun violence as you exhibit, we would not have to shamefully admit that 80% of the gun deaths in the entire industrialized, developed world occcur in the U.S. and 87% of the children and youths killed by guns in that world, are American kids. Thank you for raising your articulate voice. I pray that people of faith especially will join you and start raising their voices, so we can put an end to the madness. God’s speed!

  13. How do you explain that the Kansas City area neighborhoods with all the gun shops and highest gun ownership have the lowest murder rate?

    The areas of Kansas City with the highest murder rate also have the highest unemployment, lowest medical care, highest VD rate, highest tuberculosis rate, highest school dropout rate and so on for all the liabilities of society. There may be a common element. Going after guns will not solve the problem.

  14. I’m behind you and your statements 100% . Keep speaking up. Keep trying to educate children and parents and those who participated in KCPT’s “KC. Week in Review” Friday, July 25th, and all the media. Such ignorance on this issue is appalling!

  15. Mr Mayor
    Reading your letter and the comments I have to only wonder why this would be a priority for you? As the Kansas City schools mire in a death spiral of good money spent on top of bad, the neighbor hoods are becoming more and more crime ridden, YOU YOURSELF will not go downtown without armed guards at your side, jobs and businesses are leaving because of the taxes and all you want to do is blame the law of the land that allows us to protect ourselves as needed. I suppose the curfew that my children have to suffer because you brand me as a bad parent and because they are under 18 you suffer from the delusion that they have or not capable of having any right to gather in a public place? With the issues this city is suffering from and the mayors office only wants to blame guns as the sole source of WHY these children are killed? Sir I beg you to go talk to the people in the areas that these tragic events happen in and I will bet you more times than naught the biggest complaint is JOBS and good paying ones! This transcends color, creed or status in life! Opportunity is opportunity sir and without it there is no hope and when there is no hope very bad things happen to good people, young, old, white, black, Latino any race or creed. I respect your office sir and I won’t drag your family into the office politics but I will say, remember what gets reported affects your ability to have credibility as the mayor. Maybe we should all look at our own lives and actions as I will guarantee you our children are, the example we set will mold the future. If we stop blaming and start trying to create opportunity for them to prosper them hopefully guns will become the last topic a mayor will want to discuss and waste time on!
    Respectfully Submitted

  16. Good morning Mayor,

    It’s been awhile since you posted this item and I have been keeping up, of course the comment section of the KC Star has a greater number of postings – many from many of the same concerned citizen (although typically not worded so nice!)

    As I read all local news available, I understand the limited scope of changes the city can make but surely there are other actions we can take to stem the tide. I am a long time KC resident, feel strongly about making this a better, safer city and want to do something about it.

    I can whine all day in the paper’s Opinion section but we know that accomplishes nothing. My kids are grown and gone and except for work and mowing my yard I have no pressing commitments on my free time and want to actively participate in making the city a better place to live for my children and grandchildren.

    So tell me, what can I do? Give me a task, I’m not afraid to jump in and help where needed. I want and need to do something productive to help the city move forward because face it, if I do nothing then I have no right to complain.

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