Why it’s not painful for me to keep talking to Kansans about my daughter’s murder

Supporters of the Kansas City chapter of Moms Demand Action gather at the Statehouse for advocacy day in February 2020, just before the pandemic shut things down. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

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. LaTonya Boyd is a Topeka-based volunteer with the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action and a member of the Everytown Survivor Network.

Kansas Moms Demand Action held their first advocacy day in Topeka in 2016. There were just more than 10 people there. I was one of them.

On Oct. 13, 2009, my life was forever changed by a domestic abuser. My daughter, Tyesha McNair, was 21 years old and the mother of two little girls — one was two and half, and the other was only six months old.

I taught Tyesha to be a fighter from a young age. She was a strong and independent woman. Family was very important to her. She called me on Oct. 1, 2009, to tell me she was coming home to me. My son planned to drive to get her and her girls and bring them all home, but before he had the chance, Tyesha and her friend were shot and killed by her abuser.

My granddaughters have grown up without their mother. They have to live with knowing that their dad killed their momma.

I never want any family to go through what my family has gone through. That’s why I fight for gun safety laws that can keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Women and children deserve to be safe from abusers.

In a couple of weeks, we will hold our sixth annual advocacy day, and our numbers have grown tenfold. We will meet virtually out of respect for the safety of our volunteers and lawmakers, but we still expect hundreds of people to attend. Our numbers have grown every year.

Kansas Moms Demand Action held its first advocacy day in Topeka in 2016. (Submitted to Kansas Reflector)

This year we will again be focused on domestic violence legislation, as we have been for the past several years. In 2018, we pushed for legislation that would help keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. It appeared this was a topic upon which we could all agree. Access to a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely a woman will be killed. Between 2015 and 2019, firearms were used in almost 60% of domestic violence homicides in the state.

Fortunately, in 2018, the Kansas Legislature agreed that protecting women and families from domestic gun violence should be a priority and passed a bill — with overwhelming bipartisan support — to prohibit domestic abusers from purchasing and possessing firearms, and it was signed into law by Gov. Jeff Colyer. I have no doubt this law has saved lives.

For the past two years, we’ve been advocating for a bill that would further strengthen Kansas’ domestic violence legislation passed in 2018.

Currently, Kansas law doesn’t require prohibited domestic abusers to turn in the guns they may already have when they become prohibited. That’s why we are advocating for HB2251 and SB192, similar bills in the House and Senate that would require prohibited domestic abusers to relinquish their firearms until they can legally possess them again. This would put in place an enforcement mechanism to make Kansas’ existing domestic violence law stronger, further protecting survivors of domestic violence.

Since finding and joining Moms Demand Action, I have found my voice. I’ve learned that I have a voice and I have the right to use it. I now spend my life advocating for others so they won’t know the pain my family has known. And I try to show others that they can use their voice too.

As a woman of color, we’ve been taught our voices don’t matter. I’ve met lots of women of color who have had children taken by gun violence. In Kansas, Black people are nine times more likely than white people to die by gun homicide.

Some people think it must be so painful for me to keep talking about my daughter’s murder, but that’s not the case for me. I think of it every day and have known many others in my life who have been taken by gun violence. It is not something you forget. Talking about it and advocating for the safety of others brings me healing because it’s important.

We all need to hear these stories. To heal and create change, we must remember those taken by gun violence.

Women and families, like my daughter Tyesha, deserve our protection. We are asking the Kansas Legislature to prioritize keeping women and families safe in our state, as they did in 2018, and to strengthen the existing law by passing HB 2251/SB 192. If you agree with our cause, we invite you to join us by texting READY to 644-33.

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. Find information, including how to submit your own commentary, here.