Both Kansas Sen. Barbara Bollier and Kay Richter were raised in homes with guns. Their fathers were hunters, and as children, Bollier and Richter were taught to respect firearms. As they grew up, they received training on safe usage and handled guns themselves on occasion. Now, Bollier and Richter are strong advocates for taking steps to stop gun violence.
The pair spoke at the gun violence awareness event at Asbury United Methodist Church on Thursday evening. Bollier, a state senator representing much of northeast Johnson County, said gun violence should be discussed as a public health issue. Richter, whose son died in a robbery in 2012, addressed the impact guns have had on family and friends of victims.
Richter spoke on her experience as a mother whose son was murdered, as well as her experience with gun violence victims. As she sought support following her son’s murder — a 2012 armed robbery that led to five victims being stabbed to death, including Richter’s son, Ross — Richter found her way to Mothers in Charge.
The group is a community that works to prevent others from experiencing homicide, and most of the women in MIC had lost a loved one to gun violence, Richter said. MIC hosted vigils for families in the Kansas City area, and Richter said she witnessed the way gun violence wreaks havoc on victims’ loved ones. She said she left MIC to be proactive against gun violence rather than reactive.
Now, she focuses her volunteer work on issues she said she believes are at the root gun violence: access to housing, work, food, healthcare and education. She encouraged the audience to volunteer and to support a livable minimum wage and mental health awareness as ways to address root problems that can ultimately manifest in gun violence.
“Above all, make your voice heard at every level of government about guns,” Richter said.
Bollier spoke on her efforts to pass legislation restricting access to guns for people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, such as the extreme risk protection order that she’s introduced three times. Nearly two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and access to a gun triples the risk of suicide, Bollier said. If gun laws restricted assault rifles and imposed limits on ammunition, the outcomes might change, she said.
“In this society, we’re having a problem,” Bollier said. “It doesn’t seem to be being addressed in ways that are making changes possible so we don’t need to gather here and talk about gun violence.”
As a former anesthesiologist and spouse to a family practice physician, Bollier said she views gun violence as a public health issue. Bollier serves as the ranking minority member on the Public Health and Welfare Committee, and she said gun violence is not discussed in this committee.
Bollier, who switched parties from Republican to Democrat in December 2018, said that leadership under the previous gubernatorial administration had allowed more lenient gun laws to take effect. Cities can’t restrict guns in public places, gun owners aren’t required to participate in training programs, and guns are allowed on college campuses, she noted.
“These tragedies continue and continue and continue to happen,” Bollier said. “Until we as a citizenry stand up and say, ‘anti-gun violence is going to be one of my top reasons for voting or I’m not voting for the people that are running for office,’ until we do that, it’s not going to change.”
During the open comments portion of the evening, Rep. Jerry Stogsdill of Prairie Village, a former naval weapons officer, noted that the Shawnee Mission School District had allocated around $20 million to increase security and “harden our schools.” Audience member Leanna Barclay encouraged the crowd of around 65 people to call and tell their representatives to vote in favor of bills aimed at reducing gun violence. Similarly, Stogsdill said people should call and express their concerns to major sporting goods stores that stock firearms.
“There are many people who care about trying to make changes,” Bollier said. “Just seek them out and make it your priority. Write your letters, write your emails and vote.”