Kansas City, Kansas, police investigate a shooting. The Kansas State Rifle Association is pushing back on cities that have issued proclamations recognizing Gun Violence Awareness Month.
Kansas gun rights activists over the past 20 years have successfully legalized concealed weapons without a permit, blocked attempts to pass “red flag” laws to allow law enforcement to take firearms away from individuals in crisis and just this spring eliminated most fees on conceal-carry licenses.
Their latest effort is taking on official proclamations to raise awareness of gun violence.
The Kansas State Rifle Association, the NRA’s state affiliate, sent letters last week to officials in Roeland Park and Parsons, in the southwest part of the state, objecting to proclamations marking June as Gun Violence Awareness Month and June 2 as Gun Violence Awareness Day. Both commemorations are nationally recognized.
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The proclamations are non-binding messages of support and solidarity for victims of gun violence. They say “support for the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding individuals goes hand-in-hand with keeping guns away from people with dangerous histories” and encourage residents to support local efforts to prevent gun violence.
But the KSRA describes the declarations as part of an effort by the “radical gun-control lobby” to enlist local governments in a push to restrict gun rights. The letters single out the national organization Moms Demand Action and other groups that advocate for additional firearm restrictions and safety measures for criticism.
“Should Roeland Park or any other local unit of government choose to go beyond allowing national gun-control groups to use government resources to promote their extreme agenda and additionally take action to limit the rights of law-abiding firearm owners to defend themselves from violent crime, you can rest assured that the Kansas State Rifle Association will not stand idly by,” Moriah Day, KSRA’s director, wrote in one letter.
“Rest assured; we will defend the rights of potential victims to defend themselves with every fiber of our being.”
The pushback effort, directed at localities, underscores how fully gun rights activists in Kansas have succeeded in loosening the state’s firearms laws over the past two decades. Even measured expressions of concern with gun violence’s toll is enough to elicit a sharp rebuke.
Roeland Park Mayor Michael Poppa, who signed his city’s proclamation, said the goal of the document was to recognize that gun violence exists.
“It’s recognizing that responsible, law-abiding gun owners have a right to have their guns under the Second Amendment,” said Poppa, who is also the director of the Kansas Mainstream Coalition.
“But it also recognizes that we don’t – we don’t have any kind of safety protocol in place to make sure that guns do not end up in the hands of people with dangerous histories. So it was very clear.”
Poppa also said he interpreted Day’s comments about how the rifle association would respond if Roeland Park took additional action as a threat. Kansas lawmakers have already largely taken away the power of localities to set firearm rules more restrictive than state law.
Even one top Republican appeared less alarmed by the proclamations than the KSRA.
“Personally, I don’t care what the localities do with that,” Kansas Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said Thursday. “I don’t even know what to say to it.”
Similar proclamations and messages have also been issued by Prairie Village, Leawood, De Soto, Junction City, Lenexa and Mission, according to a Moms Demand Action Facebook post. The Shawnee Mission School District also released a proclamation.
The KSRA has only highlighted the Roeland Park and Parsons proclamations on its website.
“No Kansan should be comfortable with the fact that these local governments are going out of their way to place the blame for violence on inanimate objects, responsible firearm owners, and other law-abiding Kansans rather than putting all their time and resources behind actually fighting crime and stopping the violent criminals that are the real problem,” the KSRA said on its website.
Day didn’t respond to a call Thursday.
Gun Violence Awareness Day is associated with Wear Orange, a national campaign that honors Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old who was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago in 2013 shortly after participating in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade.
“Wear Orange is an annual activation to honor lives cut short by gun violence- like my son, Felix who was shot and killed, and is honored every year during this event,” said Mary Snipes, senior fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network and a volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action. Felix was shot in Junction City in 2018.
“Gun violence impacts everyone and responsible gun owners recognize the importance and value of raising awareness on the issue. Swatting down acknowledgements of the gun violence epidemic’s real impact on people is a truly low act,” Snipes said in a statement. “As gun violence rips apart families across the nation, survivors of tragedy have the right to be heard and we have the responsibility to listen and act on life saving solutions.”
The upcoming awareness day and month come amid a national backdrop of regular mass shootings. Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday marked the first anniversary of an elementary school shooting in which a former student fatally shot 19 students and two teachers. Over the weekend, a shooting at Kansas City nightclub left three dead and two others injured.
Still, mass shootings account for only a fraction of gun violence. Just over 500 people died from firearms in Kansas in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a death rate 17.3 per 100,000 people.
The number of Kansas firearms deaths has been climbing in recent years. In 2014, 329 people died.
Kansas state Rep. Jo Ella Hoye, a Lenexa Democrat and a former Moms Demand chapter leader for Kansas, suggested the lack of official action on firearm safety is only drawing more attention to gun violence.
“As more and more people in this country know somebody who has been impacted by gun violence … they’re experiencing it, so the movement is growing, sadly, because we aren’t taking action,” Hoye said.
“So I think it’s possible they’re just scraping and grasping at straws to try to make something out of this.”
Kansas lawmakers have been incrementally chipping away at limits for decades, going back to their vote to authorize concealed weapons in 2006.
Lawmakers in 2015 voted to allow individuals 21 and older to carry concealed weapons without a permit. In 2021, the Legislature lowered the conceal-carry age to 18 over Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto, though individuals ages 18-20 must still get a license.
At the same time, GOP legislators have blocked “red flag” bills that would give courts more power to temporarily remove firearms from individuals who are a threat to themselves or others.
Most recently, the Legislature a few weeks ago passed a bill eliminating $116 in fees on individuals who choose to get a permit. Lowering the fees was a signature issue of Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach, a Republican, and Kelly signed the bill into law.
“We had this proclamation on our agenda at least for the past four years that I can remember,” Poppa said. “And this is the first year that there’s been any reaction from the NRA, from the Kansas State Rifle Association.”
The Star’s Katie Bernard contributed reporting