With the memory of back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio, earlier this month still fresh, a panel discussion on gun violence attracted a standing-room only crowd at the Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park on Saturday.
Organized by Rep. Sharice Davids, the panel included three Democratic state lawmakers and a leader from the Shawnee Mission School District Police Department as well as activists from Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action.
Panelists called the epidemic of gun violence and deaths in the United States a public health crisis, and voiced support for steps like universal background checks and “red flag” laws that would allow law enforcement to temporarily take away guns from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others by a judge.
Davids reiterated her call for the U.S. Senate to take up bills approved by the House earlier this year that would expand background checks. She noted that Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had not reconvened the Senate to take action yet, but said “although he hasn’t done that, one of the things I think I should acknowledge is that Mitch McConnell and the president have both begun to show a willingness to discuss gun safety.”
Capt. Mark Schmidt of the Shawnee Mission Police Department told attendees about the steps the district had taken in recent years to modernize building security, including the multi-million dollar security camera and door locking system that allows officers to monitor who is coming in and out of every school. Schmidt said the district has focused on creating a secure perimeter around its buildings, but that there was a need to balance safety with a welcoming learning environment.
“It’s important that our schools are safe. But it’s also important they don’t look like a prison,” he said.
Rep. Jerry Stogsdill, a Democrat from Prairie Village, said the fact that such security measures were necessary was evidence of the country’s failure to address the threat of gun violence. He said it was horrifying to hear terms usually reserved for the military applied to schools, and noted that a shooting at Highlands Elementary earlier this year highlighted the pervasiveness of the problem.
“We’ve heard hardened sites. Target-rich environments. Safety perimeters. Self defense. And we’re talking about our schools,” Stogsdill said. “Where have we come as a society? I haven’t heard those terms since I went through weapons school in the Navy.”
The hour-long event featured comments from the panelists as well as members of the panel responding to two questions submitted from the audience. As the event drew to a close, a handful of gun ownership rights advocates voiced their disappointment that members of the audience hadn’t been able to share their opinions.
In addition to Davids and Stogsdill, elected officials on the panel were Rep. Kathy Wolfe-Moore and Sen. Pat Petty.
Several Shawnee Mission area elected officials were in the audience, as well. Those who identified themselves were Reps. Cindy Holscher, Rui Xu, Stephanie Clayton, Susan Ruiz, Nancy Lusk and Cindy Neighbor; and Leawood City Councilmember Jim Rawlings.