Too many families are suffering — together, we can and must end gun violence in Kansas

Kansas Moms Demand Action at a rally at the Capitol in August 2019. (Submitted)
Kansas Moms Demand Action at a rally at the Capitol in August 2019. (Submitted)

The Kansas Reflector welcomes opinion pieces from writers who share our goal of widening the conversation about how public policies affect the day-to-day lives of people throughout our state. Crystal Hays is a volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action.

A son. A sister. Two nephews.

In the last four years, four family members have been taken from me by gun violence.

My son was 17. He was buying shoes for the new school year with his cousin, my nephew, who was 16, when they were both shot and killed in August 2017. One year earlier, my youngest sister was shot and killed in a drive-by shooting while she was asleep in her bed. And, just two weeks ago, my husband’s niece’s husband was shot and killed in an unintentional shooting.

People often tell me, “Crystal, I cannot imagine what you’ve gone through.” And I always say, “I don’t want you to.”

Whether it’s homicide, suicide or police violence, gun violence is preventable. But we need action. Our state lawmakers have proven they can come together to enact common sense gun safety laws, and they can and must do more. Our local leaders can invest in proven solutions that work for their communities. And for those of who aren’t in office, we have a key role to play, too, by making clear that enough is enough. Come November, that means voting for gun sense candidates who will fight with us to end gun violence.

Having any loved one, let alone four, taken by gun violence is not something I would wish on anybody. But the sad reality is that shootings happen every single day, all around this country. Right here in Kansas, nearly 400 people are killed by guns every year.

Earlier this year, Joheem Meredith, a senior at Topeka High, was shot and killed. He was just weeks away from his high school graduation. His story reminded me vividly of my son and nephew — and it’s a story told far too often in the Black community.

In Kansas, Black people are twice as likely to die by guns as white people and nine times as likely to die by gun homicide. This is not a coincidence — centuries of systemic racism, inequity, and longstanding policy failures have led to many of the key drivers of gun violence that plague Black communities.

When I decided to join Moms Demand Action, it was coincidental. My husband worked at the community center where they were holding a meeting one day last year, and he convinced me to come down and listen. That’s where I found a community of people who believed as strongly as I do that we can and must end gun violence.

Moms Demand Action is a coalition of mothers and others, gun violence survivors, gun owners and non gun owners, Republicans, Democrats and independents alike working to reduce gun violence. Our work ranges from sharing our stories and raising awareness within our communities to calling our lawmakers and testifying on bills in the Statehouse.

Across Kansas, people are making clear this issue matters to us, and it’s making a difference. In 2018, Kansas lawmakers did what seems impossible these days — they acted in a bipartisan manner to prohibit domestic abusers from accessing guns, and the vote was nearly unanimous.

Now, we need them to do more, starting with passing a bill to ensure domestic abusers who become prohibited from having guns promptly relinquish the firearms they may already own. We also need our leaders to invest in community-based solutions to gun violence. Local policymakers should support and fund local gun violence intervention groups like Cure Violence that have been doing innovative, lifesaving work for years.

And if our current lawmakers won’t take those lifesaving steps, then we must elect new ones who will. We have an opportunity in November to elect people who are willing to have tough conversations about gun violence and take bold action to end it. That is the only way we can defeat this demon.

I will never stop sharing my story. And I will never stop urging leaders to act. I will continue to be my son’s voice, because he no longer has one. If I can prevent one person from pulling the trigger, inspire one voter to go out and vote for a gun sense candidate, or convince one lawmaker to fight for the gun safety solutions we desperately need, I’ve succeeded.

Through its opinion section, the Kansas Reflector works to amplify the voices of people who are affected by public policies or excluded from public debate. For information, including how to submit your own commentary, click here.