The tragic shootings last weekend at the Jewish Community Center and Village Shalom have left Judy Sherry both mad and sad.
The co-founder of the local chapter of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, Sherry is questioning how the alleged shooter got access to his guns.
“That is exactly what Grandmothers Against Gun Violence is about — keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people, so our children and grandchildren can live in a country where they are safe at home, at school and in their community,” Sherry said.
She and Prairie Village resident Susan Blaney launched the Kansas City chapter of Grandmothers Against Gun Violence after being inspired by its national founder, a Massachusetts grandmother.
It was the first satellite chapter to the original in Cape Cod. Other chapters exist in Chicago; Seattle; Tucson, Ariz.; Dayton, Ohio.
Sherry and Blaney each have four grandchildren.
Their main focus is bringing in experts to speak to their group about issues related to gun violence. As a nonprofit organization, the group does not support any particular politician or political party, Sherry said.
“We want our members to be knowledgeable,” Sherry said. “We want to see our grandchildren grow up.”
Their speakers have included University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor Allen Rostron, who talked about the Second Amendment, physician Denise Dowd of Children’s Mercy Hospital, and Kansas Rep. Stephanie Clayton, a Republican, and Missouri Rep. Kevin McManus, a Democrat.
They hope to have a psychiatrist and psychologist talk to the group soon about the controversial issues of tying mental health to gun ownership laws.
The whole idea for the group kicked off in September last year. They already have 150 members and are gaining about 25 more each month, Blaney said. Most are women, as the name of the group would imply, but Sherry said there are five or six men as well.
“The legislators in both Missouri and Kansas continue to try to adopt what we consider to be outrageous gun laws,” Blaney said. “The reason we’re expanding so quickly is that there is a real need for (this type of group) in the Kansas City area. I consider it to be a health issue.”
Incidents like the March 18 shooting at the Kansas City Zoo’s free day are what the grandmothers hope to prevent by encouraging policies such as background checks.
“Who’s bringing a gun to the zoo?” said Sherry. She hopes their work could help change the gun culture in the area.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently called attention to that city’s murder rate, which included 90 homicides committed with handguns last year.
Sherry said the group supports Missouri HB 2159, a bill introduced by Rep. Brandon Ellington, a Kansas City Democrat, that in addition to supporting background checks would make failure to report a lost or stolen firearm within 72 hours an infraction that escalates to a class A misdemeanor on the second offense.
Mayor James and Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté also support the bill.
“I think our job is to keep raising awareness to elect legislators who are more reasonable” about gun policies, Sherry said.
They’re also trying to put together a coalition of like-minded groups so they have more voices behind them when contacting legislators. So far, their coalition includes Moms Demand Action (Kansas chapter.), the National Council of Jewish Women, Veterans for Peace, League of Women Voters (Jackson, Clay and Platte County chapter), moveon.org (Johnson County chapter) and True Blue Women.
“We can now say we represent more than 1,800 people,” Sherry said. “The mission is to gather us together so we’re not duplicating efforts, but understanding that each group might have its own core issue. Together we all support gun violence prevention.”
Though they haven’t see direct results yet, Sherry said the work is an ongoing, long-term effort.