‘We are harmed here’: Kansas City leaders urge action on gun violence, gun control

A weekend of violence in Kansas City and mass shootings across the country left Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II with heartache he’s felt many times before, he said at an event in Midtown Wednesday night.

“And painfully, I know that it’s going to happen again,” Cleaver said, “and it will continue until there is a revolution in the way we do politics in our country.”

Cleaver, D-Missouri, appeared before a crowd of at least 200 people gathered at Metropolitan Community College to hear from him, Mayor Quinton Lucas, Kansas City Police Chief Rick Smith and gun safety advocates on the heels of a violent weekend. The local and national leaders urged residents to pressure politicians to pass gun control measures.

They also lamented that two federal bills strengthening background check requirements passed the House but are sitting in the U.S. Senate. Cleaver blamed Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and organizers urged the crowd to call and write to McConnell and their own senators about the issue.

“There are 300 million Americans,” Cleaver said, “almost all of whom support background checks — 300 million Americans. And one American is holding it up. Now, the nation was founded on the bold rejection of one-man rule, and ... one man is holding up a modest but nonetheless important gun reform.”

In a statement Monday addressing growing criticism, McConnell said Senate Republicans were “prepared to do our part.” He said he spoke with chairs of three Senate committees to work on legislation.

“Only serious, bipartisan, bicameral efforts will enable us to continue this important work and produce further legislation that can pass the Senate, pass the House, and earn the president’s signature,” McConnell said. “Partisan theatrics and campaign-trail rhetoric will only take us farther away from the progress all Americans deserve.”

The White House has threatened to veto the two bills Cleaver is backing.

Cleaver acknowledged no one change would on its own stem the tide of violence, but he argued gun restrictions were needed to curb violence.

Gun violence is an issue Kansas City knows all too well. Unlike Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the city isn’t reeling from a mass tragedy, but Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker said Kansas City is “just as harmed.”

“We are harmed here,” Peters Baker said at the event Wednesday night. “Our kids who live in particular neighborhoods are harmed by the countless acts of violence that happen all around them, and they too rarely see any justice for it.”

So far this year, Kansas City has seen 87 homicides, nine more than at this time in 2018, according to Smith. He added that 309 people have been shot in Kansas City since January.

“Missouri’s three biggest cities are in the top 12 most dangerous cities in the nation,” Smith said. “That is St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, Missouri ... what does that say about our public policy in the state of Missouri?”

Lucas called the rampant gun violence a “mass genocide” and a “devaluing in lives, particularly black lives.” He grew up on the city’s East Side, where he said he was familiar with the sound of gun shots. Since then, he said, society has progressed in many ways.

“So why is it that we continue to look at the same issues, the same tragedy, the same carnage with guns in our community every day?” Lucas said. “Why is it that every year now in Kansas City we’re talking about setting or matching old homicide records?”

Lucas urged members of the crowd to each speak with five people and work toward change on violence.

Cleaver said in a news conference that he hopes the engagement with citizens will help put pressure on Congress to act on gun control.

Earlier this year, the U.S. House passed a bill aimed at closing the so-called gun show loophole and requiring background checks for all gun sales. It also passed a bill that would change the law that allows a sale to be made if the background check has taken more than three days.

In 97 percent of cases, background checks are finished within that period, but a small sliver of all background checks aren’t done in that time - and when they aren’t, the “Charleston loophole” allows the sale to proceed. That allowed Charleston mass shooter Dylann Roof to purchase the gun he used to kill nine people in South Carolina.

Both bills are awaiting action in the Senate.

Cleaver and his counterpart on the Kansas side, Congresswoman Sharice Davids, a Democrat, both signed onto a letter from House Democrats urging McConnell to call the U.S. Senate back into session and hold a vote.

On Twitter, Davids said it had been 161 days since the House passed the bill closing the gun show loophole.

“And it’s been 161 days of no action from Mitch McConnell,” Davids said, “161 days of more lives being cut short by gun violence. No more.”

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Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.