Kevin Jamison knows some people don’t care for him.
OK, his word: They “loathe” him.
He’s the gun guy.
He heard that very phrase at a garage sale — “Hey, it’s the gun guy!”
To gun owners, gun sellers and strict constitutionalists, he’s the calm, learned voice of reason.
To those who think the Second Amendment is as outdated as a spittoon, he’s dangerous.
Both sides, though, would probably agree that Jamison, 62, a Northland attorney, is one of Kansas City’s most public and prolific voices for gun rights.
His office is dark wood and leather. He wears a bushy beard and walks with a cane. He doesn’t argue guns with patriotic zeal or emotional bluster.
He comes at it as a matter of law.
He’s a concealed carry instructor, speaks to groups regularly and frequently writes letters to the editor.
Law enforcement officers, judges and lawyers — even the occasional prosecutor — call for his advice on gun law. As one former police officer said, “Nobody in Missouri knows more about gun law than Kevin Jamison.”
Joan Bray, who spent 18 years in the Missouri General Assembly, remembers Jamison, and not fondly. He has done far more harm than good, she said.
“People like this guy are really a corroding force in our society,” said Bray, a Democrat from University City in St. Louis County. “They are not a policy builder of good things. They are the ‘guns-are-the-solution’ crowd.
“I like to think they are a minority, but they shout the loudest.”
It’s not as if Jamison was destined for his role. There were no guns in his house when he was growing up. His dad sold ice cream, and his mother grew up on a walnut ranch.
Jamison got there because he believes that any legal citizen should be able to walk into a store and walk out with a gun — handgun, assault rifle, no waiting period, no registration, no trigger-lock requirements. Partner that with being a litigator — well-read, curious and ready and able to articulate the position — and that’s how he became the voice for a side in one of America’s hottest-trigger debates.
It started back in the 1980s when school shootings and the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan led to calls for gun control.
“Well,” Jamison said recently in his office, “somebody had to speak up.”
Family of soldiers
Step into Jamison’s law office in Gladstone, and you’re face to face with the warriors in his family.
Proud portraits of soldiers in uniform: his great-great grandfather in the Civil War, grandfather in World War I, father in World War II and a son who served in Afghanistan.
Smack dab in the middle of that wall of honor is a picture of Jamison in a business suit.
He missed Vietnam, barely and, he said, regrettably. He was in college, enrolled in ROTC. He sported a crew cut in those days of rage, and he fumed over the anti-war protesters.
“I thought they were the biggest ally of the Viet Cong,” Jamison said behind the cluttered desk in his office. “They probably decided the war.”
Not exactly a popular take on America’s most unpopular war.
Shrug. He’s fine with that.
Richard Eaton at the Great Guns store in Liberty has known Jamison for 10 years or so. The two partner to teach concealed carry classes.
Bob Hanson, a board member of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, a gun owners group that Jamison helped start, has known Jamison about the same length of time.
Both say they are friends of Jamison. Neither has been to his house or could tell you what he does in his spare time.
“I don’t know that he has any hobbies,” Hanson said. “I don’t think anybody knows him very well.”
Jamison was born in Long Branch, N.J. His dad worked for the ice cream division of Swift Foods.
“He had a degree in dairy science and never milked a cow in his life,” Jamison said.
The family moved to Kansas City when he was 10. He graduated from North Kansas City High School in 1971.
It was a time when many of America’s youths jumped headfirst into a “Born to be Wild” lifestyle, letting their hair grow and denouncing the war in Vietnam. Jamison kept his crew cut, earned an Eagle Scout rank and embraced the notion that the war was worth fighting.
“I know most of my generation didn’t agree with me, but it never occurred to me to do anything else,” he said. “It also never occurred to me that I was wrong.”
While home from college at the University of Missouri, he and his father watched a news report on Vietnam.
“Study hard, or you will end up in a rice paddy,” his dad told him.
When Jamison joined the Army in 1976, he volunteered for the infantry.
Was he looking for a fight?
“Well, yeah,” he said. But his four years were after Vietnam and before the U.S. invasion of Grenada. He went to law school.
Since 1983, he’s handled cases involving immigration, divorce, traffic and criminal defense. His chief annoyance is when a client facing a DUI charge wears a Jack Daniel’s T-shirt to court.
“It happens more than you would think,” he said.
He’s more of a John Wayne fan. A picture in his office shows Wayne with the words: “Talk low, talk slow and don’t talk too much.”
Jamison, a divorced father of two sons, describes his politics as “strongly libertarian-flavored conservative.” When Jackson County recently allowed its first same-sex marriage, Jamison sent the judge who performed the ceremony a congratulatory note.
He doesn’t like to see people “open carry” guns. He calls it a bad tactic in the gun debate.
“A guy with an AR-15 slung over his shoulder scares people,” he said.
Eaton, at Great Guns in Liberty, teaches the gun part of his and Jamison’s concealed carry classes. Jamison teaches the law part.
“Kevin has 25 years of stories,” Eaton said. “He makes it fun. They don’t nod off with him.”
Eaton reads a lot of gun magazines. Sometimes he’ll be reading an article and think, “This makes a lot of sense.”
“I’ll look down, and it’ll say it’s by Kevin L. Jamison,” Eaton said. “Bottom line, I trust him.”
In a recent column in Concealed Carry, Jamison said wrote that a person can use deadly force against the threat of deadly force and does not have to wait for an aggressor to shoot first. But once the aggressor has withdrawn, that “defense of self” must stop.
“Violence is never justified or excused in retaliation,” he wrote. “If one can retreat in complete safety that is probably what God intended.”
Jamison rejects the position that firearms registration is a vital law enforcement tool or makes society safer.
“Registration just tells government where the guns are, and it almost always leads to confiscation,” he said.
He mentioned Buffalo, N.Y., where police have said they would seize handguns after permit holders have died so the weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.
Hardly confiscation if the owner is dead, “but if I can’t leave my guns to my sons, my funeral will be a sad affair,” Jamison said.
He acknowledged that confiscation is not widespread in the U.S.
“At this time, no, but I’m not setting policy for me. I’m setting policy for my grandchildren,” he said.
“They don’t accomplish anything,” he said.
He agreed, though, that a background check probably would prevent a felon or someone with mental illness from buying a gun.
“But that would be at a (retail chain), not in a back alley,” Jamison said.
Requirements for gun safety?
“Everybody should always make sure their guns are kept safe and out of reach of children, but it shouldn’t be a law,” Jamison said.
Bray said she thinks Jamison is wrong on all those issues and said his type of activism is responsible for guns being such an integral part of American society.
“We’ve become so militarized because of people like him,” Bray said. “So much so that people almost feel they have to accept it. Well, I don’t like it.”
Jamison knows his reputation. He makes no apology. Nor does he think his notoriety has harmed his law practice.
“Anyway, it’s the direction I’ve gone.”
He’s the gun guy.