Kansas City gun violence forum draws crowd
The Kansas City Star
My friend, Sarah Starnes, attended a weekend forum on gun violence and shares the following essay:
More than 25 people braved a record-breaking snowstorm that paralyzed Kansas City last week to attend Organizing for Action’s Gun Violence Prevention gathering at St. Stephen Baptist Church.
The Rev. Dr. Wallace S. Hartsfield Sr., who was among eight speakers, said gun violence has affected our lives and communities.
“It’s not about Democrat or Republican,” Hartsfield said. “It’s about life.”
He described how the availability of guns in Missouri has contributed to making this one of the deadliest states for death from gun violence, especially in the cities. Hartsfield called on those in attendance to contact all members of Congress, requesting that they pass legislation requiring universal background checks.
Participants expressed a desire for safe and responsible gun ownership. No one suggested that hunters, sportsmen or people wanting to defend themselves and their families should give up their guns.
Their concern was keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous people, to protect our communities and children.
People at the forum represented different ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds. They shared personal stories of gun trauma.
Some had family members and friends killed with guns. Florentino “Tino” Camacho Jr. described how someone had held a gun to his head and, by the grace of God, he was able to talk the assailant out of killing him, his wife and their two friends.
Camacho implored those present to be unafraid of speaking up against gun violence, and asked people to remember the 114 Kansas Citians who were murdered in 2011 and the 108 in 2012.
Chandler Simpson described how, in high school, a friend was shot in the forehead and nearly died, but his friend’s “soul was too strong,” and his friend survived.
Craig Cotton related how a friend and church member was gunned down by an off-duty security guard who took it upon himself to enforce a traffic law about driving the wrong way down a one-way street.
Willie Robertson shared how his father, as well as a brother who was a deputy sheriff, were both murdered by guns in separate incidents.
Tiffany Wheeler honored four family members killed by guns by writing their names on a “They Deserve a Vote” banner. She explained that, with the mass shootings, gun violence prevention is on the minds of everyone, and we need to take action on the issue of gun violence, especially considering that deaths from mass shootings make up less than 1 percent of all deaths by guns, illustrating the magnitude of the problem.
I, personally, had buried my memory of being a victim of gun violence until a few days after the gathering at St. Stephen. It had happened more than 25 years ago and I hadn’t been physically hurt.
The incident had been filed so deeply in my brain, that I hadn’t related it to this topic of gun violence. However, I now realize that, at the time, I experienced signs and symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
I had never been in combat or actually physically abused or assaulted, but I became hyper-vigilant and avoided places where I feared this person who had held a gun on me might be. Even going near those places and to my place of employment “triggered” a reliving of that traumatic experience in my mind and emotions, for quite some time after the event, despite the fact that the person who’d intimidated me with a gun was not allowed to be on the premises.
Several years after the incident, when I looked for a house to buy, I would not consider moving to the neighborhood into which this guy had disappeared after holding that gun on me, until after we had looked at 100 other houses. When my current house, with 14-inch thick stone walls and a six-foot high black wrought iron fence, came on the market a year after our search for a house had begun, I decided that in that house I could be safe from the memories of that person holding that gun on me.
Physical injury is, undoubtedly, the most horrible result of gun violence. Yet we are all affected by our culture’s acceptance of the assumption that guns are the answer to our inability to get along with one another via other means and our acceptance of the idea that more guns somehow make us safer.
The United States has the highest rate of personal gun ownership in the world, and our murder by firearms rate is one of the highest. Gun-related death rates in the United States are eight times higher than they are in countries that are economically and politically similar to it. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GunviolenceintheUnited_States#Homicides)
By permitting gun manufacturers and sellers to reap their profits any way they want, while people are being killed and disabled both physically and emotionally, we are culpable for allowing this violence. We have become afraid to leave our homes, afraid to talk to strangers, afraid to even visit parts of town we perceive as violent (even though most violence is perpetrated by someone known to the assailant).
We have become afraid to speak out against this violence. We are responsible for this violence if we fail to let the people who make our laws know that the unregulated manufacture and sale of guns is unacceptable to us.
Will requiring universal background checks for gun sales prevent every death or every gun-related crime? Of course not.
But, as our president has said, isn’t it worth taking action, if even one life is saved? If you are not sure of the answer to that question, talk to someone who has lost a child, a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a friend or one of our leaders through gun violence.
Sarah Starnes lives in midtown Kansas City with her family and was active in 2008 and 2012 in Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns.