Kansas City area coalition holds first forum on gun violence

Six months ago, Paul Temme chased a gunman at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, then dove to the ground when the man turned his weapon toward him and fired.

Witnessing the shooting deaths of two of the three people killed that day, and his own brush with the killer, turned Temme into a more vocal community activist against gun violence.

“A lot of people ask how I feel about witnessing that tragedy. The most overriding feeling is outrage that a person like that can get guns so easily,” Temme said.

The man accused of the murders had a decades-long involvement in hate groups and run-ins with the law.

On Monday, Temme, a member of the Northeast Kansas chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, joined more than 100 others, including several lawmakers, at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church for the first community forum of the Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence.

“What I want for this coalition is for it to become an umbrella under which all can work,” said Judy Sherry, president and co-founder of the Kansas and Missouri chapter of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, which formed 13 months ago and has more than 300 members.

“We are not against guns,” Sherry said. “We are against guns in the hands of the wrong people.”

Twenty-six civic groups seeking stricter gun laws were invited to join the coalition. Together the coalition reaches 10,000 people, Sherry said.

She said the No. 1 issue for the coalition will be pressing for background checks for anyone who tries to buy a gun.

“Only 60 percent of the guns sold in this country are subject to background checks, and that needs to change,” said Loren Stanton, president of the Brady Campaign chapter. “Gun legislation in this country bears no resemblance to public opinion about guns.”

The coalition also will promote the Brady Campaign’s ASK (Asking Saves Kids) program. It encourages parents to ask other parents, friends and family members whether firearms are kept in their home and how they’re stored.

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman, a St. Louis Democrat and Kansas City native, began working against gun violence and conceal-and-carry legislation in the early 2000s. Her drive, she said, intensified with mass shootings in recent years.

“Kansas City and St. Louis are among the 25 most-dangerous cities for gun violence in the country,” Newman said. “We must change the gun culture.”

To reach Mará Rose Williams, call 816-234-4419 or send email to mdwilliams@kcstar.com.