Congressional candidates on the issues: Preventing school shootings

SM West students held signs calling for changes to stop school shootings during their National Walkout Day demonstration in April.

Today, we continue with responses from the the candidates running for the Kansas 3rd Congressional District seat to our questionnaire, which was developed in June with input from readers.

Eight of the nine candidates running from the seat are participating. (Incumbent Rep. Kevin Yoder’s campaign says “we don’t participate in these types of surveys as a campaign policy.”)

Here’s today’s question:

The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Santa Fe High Schools this year have renewed the debate over gun control and school safety in the United States. What is the best way to prevent school shootings? Should additional gun control laws be part of the approach?

Democratic candidates

Brent Welder

When I met with a mother who had lost her 8-year-old son in the massacre at Newtown, I couldn’t hold back my own tears. The sad, scary truth is that her son’s life – and all of our children’s lives – are worth less to politicians like Congressman Yoder than donations from the NRA. To achieve gun reform, we need to get the corrupting influence of corporate money out of politics. There’s no other way to do it. The NRA has bought our politicians – Republicans and also many Democrats. We need commonsense political reform to get commonsense gun reform. I refuse to accept corporate PAC money, because I’m dedicated to representing people – not billionaires, not corporate interests, and not the NRA.

I have been a leader, not a follower, in calling for specific gun reform policies. I was the first congressional candidate in Kansas to call for banning assault weapons, following the Los Vegas massacre. I also believe in universal background checks, a 48-hour waiting period, and banning accessories like high-capacity magazines and bump stocks. For these stances, Moms Demand Action awarded me the Gun Sense Candidate Distinction. And while Kris Kobach was riding around in a wannabe tank, I was honored to be asked to march with Moms Demand in the Old Shawnee Days Parade – the only candidate to do so. The Shawnee Mission Post has noted that I am the candidate who “went the furthest” in fighting for gun reform.

We also need to recognize that women are disproportionately the victims of gun violence. In states that require background checks for all handgun sales, for instance, 47% fewer women are shot to death by their partners. Commonsense gun policies, like closing the loophole that makes it easy for domestic abusers to get guns without a background check, makes everyone safer while still protecting our Second Amendment rights.

When I called for a ban on assault weapons, one of my supporters told me, “The NRA is going to be coming for you.” “No,” I said, “I’m going to be coming for the NRA.” The NRA may be strong – but they’re wrong. We can defeat strong and wrong, but we have to be strong and right. We have to stop cowering and start fighting like our lives, and our children’s lives, depend on it. Because they do.

Sharice Davids

Our country is facing a public health crisis related to gun violence. We are dealing with too many gun deaths in our schools, in our homes, and in our communities. We must recognize this as a public health issue and address it as such. That means, in part, allowing the Center for Disease Control (CDC) to study the problem in a search for holistic and comprehensive solutions.
Last week, Rep. Kevin Yoder voted against an amendment to fund $40 million of gun violence prevention research at the CDC. The amendment did not pass and no money will be directed toward gun research. Once again, our representative and our Congress has failed to take any action on this pressing problem.

I come from a military family and have a healthy respect for responsible gun ownership. I understand that firearms do have a place in our society – but that place is not in our schools or our hospitals, and should not be available to those more likely to harm themselves or others.
With anything as powerful and dangerous as firearms, safeguards are necessary. Much like we have laws to regulate the safe use and operations of automobiles, we should have similar statues in place for firearms and I would work hard to implement these as a member of Congress.

Mike McCamon

Over the course of this campaign I have had over 185 face-to-face one-on-one meetings with leaders and everyday people who live in our district. When you approach governing in this way, you learn that school gun violence is a multifaceted issue.

Yes the instruments of these crimes are a factor, but to be successful we need to explore ways to address teen mental health and online bullying as well. We also need to acknowledge that even in our wealthiest neighborhoods, we have a critical crisis with teen suicide and too often ready access to guns enables them to take their own lives. Since the beginning of 2018, nearly two dozen teens have commited suicide in Johnson County.

Everyone I meet favors better gun control laws. And this includes gun owners and 2nd Amendment advocates as well.

People have the right to protect their family and their property, but how people acquire, accessorize, store, and dispose of guns should be regulated. The background check system is at best porous, and at its worse, a laughingstock. We should close the Gun Show loophole and design and implement a system that keeps guns away from criminals and dangerous people. We should immediately ban accessories that make weapons battlefield ready. Highly recommend, and even consider penalizing those who don’t store their guns safely under lock. And in Kansas we should allow guns to be destroyed if no longer wanted by our citizens.

Tom Niermann

My first year as a teacher at Southeast High School in Wichita, I lost students to gun violence. I even had a gun brought into my classroom. Yet nothing has changed.

I wanted to be a teacher to help young people find opportunity, and show them the difference they could make. I never imagined I’d have to teach students what to do if an active shooter busts through the door. It is nonetheless an essential part of the job, and every teacher’s deepest fear. How is that acceptable in the United States of America?

Let there be no ambiguity: gun violence is an education issue – because what is most poisonous to curiosity and exploration is fear. No child’s right to live free of fear, no child’s right to live can any longer be supplanted by the bottom line of machine gun manufacturers.

The death toll marches unmercifully upwards, not just in the dramatic tragedies we mourn as a nation, and read about in newspapers, but in the ceaseless, pounding, daily violence. The trapped wife who stares down the barrel, afraid – and alone; the teenager broken by the weight of expectations, who takes his life; my own two students, just blocks from school, moments after the bell at the end of the day, who were the victims of a drive-by shooting.

Since then, nearly 1.6 million Americans have died by gun violence here in the United States, more than all the war fatalities in American History. 30,000 more will die this year. Politicians have declared by their inaction that the lives of school children do not matter enough to them. Should ever a politician retreat to the insufficient creed of “there is nothing to be done” let them know, that you know, that they are lying to you.

There is much we can do. We must ban military-style assault weapons. We must expand universal background checks. We must demand that known domestic abusers forfeit their arms. But we must also repeal the Dickey amendment and mandate gun violence research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to ensure that we understand and address all angles of this public health disaster.

I will never be able to shake the image of my students’ whose potential to change the world was snuffed out by gun violence. I will not rest until the lessons of these tragedies are enshrined in our laws.

Jay Sidie

Only through the careful and enforceable regulation of gun ownership can we reduce the number of gun deaths in America and our schools. We are at a point in time where we need to balance our right to bear arms with our right for safety. I’d support a federal gun buyback program in order to get some guns off our streets. In addition to this, I believe we should close any and all background-check loopholes, reinstate the assault weapons ban and strengthen the enforcement of the Lautenberg Amendment, which prohibits people convicted of domestic assault from purchasing firearms.

In addition to what is outlined above, we need to fund full-service community schools, with more counselors and social workers. Given that there is a link between some acts of gun violence and mental health, increasing resources and staff dedicated to identifying at-risk individuals for intervention makes sense. Within the schools, a trained group of staff members could be tasked with completing threat assessments, which would occur if someone is reported to be talking about committing a violent act or brings a weapon to school. If the threat is determined to be real, then protection mode kicks in, where the potential victims are protected, parents are notified, and police and counselors are brought in.

Sylvia Williams

Common sense solutions regarding gun ownership is not in conflict with the 2nd Amendment. Responsible gun owners support such solutions. I support universal background checks, age limitations for certain purchases, and reinstating the restrictions on military-style weapons. These solutions will not eliminate all gun violence but hopefully reduce the current epidemic.

Schools should have safety procedures in place. Staff should be trained on those procedures and those procedures should not include arming teachers.

Republican candidates

Trevor Keegan

There are many types of mass shootings that we must be concerned with, from workplace shootings to public shootings, but school shootings are especially horrific as they are an attack on our children. I believe that as a country there are many solutions that we can agree on if we work together. This is why we need more moderates in Washington, to negotiate solutions that we can all agree on.

As far as my beliefs, I am a supporter of 2nd Amendment rights, but I also support common sense gun control, and I believe gun control must be a part of any solution to reduce mass shootings. I think all gun owners have a responsibility to know how to safely handle their gun, and therefore support mandatory gun training before purchasing a gun. I also support universal background checks and public funding for gun research. However, I do not support a universal ban on assault weapons. This term represents a broad category of weapons, and I believe they are no more dangerous than any other weapons. Hand guns are far more dangerous in terms of volume of shootings. What makes assault weapons dangerous are accessories. I do support additional regulations on accessories like the bump stock and high capacity magazines which make weapons exceptionally dangerous. Kevin Yoder continues to take thousands from the gun lobby while doing nothing to address mass shootings. Is this the kind of leader we want representing us?

One of the largely forgotten topics when discussing school shootings is school funding. As we have seen in Kansas, some states are trying to cut funding to schools. This impacts services provided by schools, including mental health, that could help identify some of these troubled teens and get them the help they need. This also causes class sizes to increase. I went to a small public school in Kansas that has since been consolidated due to budget constraints. Small schools like this with small class sizes allow closer relationships between students and teachers, which I feel decreases the likelihood of a mentally unstable student being ignored. Decreasing school funding increases class size, which makes identifying these individuals difficult. That is bad for everyone.

Any solution to address mass shootings must be holistic. This includes gun control, mental health services, and appropriate school funding. Any solution that doesn’t include all three is only a partial solution.

Joe Myers

The shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Santa Fe High Schools this year have renewed the debate over gun control and school safety in the United States. What is the best way to prevent school shootings? Should additional gun control laws be part of the approach?

I am morally opposed to any law which expands and extends American’s right to carry a fully-serviceable assault weapon into any area occupied by students. Whatever has to be done to counter the NRA must be done, especially since the NRA has attracted so much out-of-nation support.

The NRA is no longer a supporter of our nation.

Rep. Kevin Yoder

Did not respond

Check back tomorrow for the candidates’ responses to item three:

The separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border has drawn criticism from policymakers across the country. How should U.S. officials handle families attempting to enter the country? What specific points should comprehensive immigration reform legislation include?