Lawmakers must take these actions to reduce Kansans’ risk of dying from gun violence

March 14, 2021 3:33 am

“Kansas has the 17th highest gun death rate in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center. To curb gun-related deaths in the state, the Kansas legislature must adopt a series of laws pertaining to gun safety,” writes Paul Samberg. (Getty Images)

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. Paul Samberg, originally from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, is a second-year student at the University of Kansas studying journalism, Jewish studies and political science.

The winter day started like every other for my 7-year-old brother. Shaken awake by our dad, he dutifully ate the bowl of cereal left for him and yawned as our mom ushered him out the door to the bus stop, the yellow bus rumbling down the street, ready to deposit him at school for another day of second grade.

Less than three miles away, our neighborhood elementary school was waiting to welcome my brother, the sun bouncing off the monkey bars outside the art room window and the cubbies tucked like wooden soldiers behind classroom doors, awaiting the detritus of backpacks and show-and-tell. The window inset in each door provided a clear view of the hallways.

My brother’s school was not in Kansas, though it had architecture typical of 1960s elementary schools everywhere. The low-slung building had a simple aluminum and cement portico jutting out from the double glass door entrance and a row of low-to-the-ground classroom windows the whole width of the school. This was the perfect vantage point for daydreaming students looking out and, for one man, peering in.

That man was the gunman whose name my brother never has spoken, who did more than peer in the windows of Sandy Hook School on Dec. 14, 2012. He turned my brother’s day dark, instantaneously transforming me from a carefree 11-year-old to a big brother, who was suddenly tasked with monitoring my little brother’s emotional well-being while navigating my own.

The Sandy Hook shooting, which redefined my childhood community, marked a turning point in the conversation about gun control. Moms Demand Action, a gun safety activist group that is increasingly active in Kansas, was created the day after the Sandy Hook shooting. However, just over eight years later, the United States is still in dire need of gun safety legislation, and Kansas, my new home while I attend the University of Kansas, is not immune.

Kansas has the 17th highest gun death rate in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center. To curb gun-related deaths in the state, the Kansas Legislature must adopt a series of laws pertaining to gun safety.

The first law Kansas must adopt is background checks for all private gun sales. According to a 2019 study published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, background checks contribute to a 14.9% reduction in homicides, yet a 2019 House Bill requiring background checks for private gun sales did not pass. The Kansas Legislature needs to try again.

Kansas previously passed gun legislation, so it can be done. A 2015 law, Senate Bill 45, allowed anyone at least 21 to carry a concealed firearm. Considering concealed carry increases violent crime by 15%, the Legislature should repeal SB45 and replace it with a shall-issue law, which requires a license to carry a concealed firearm.

Concealed firearms are not the only issue, though. As LaTonya Boyd wrote last month, firearms were used in almost 60% of domestic violence homicides between 2015 and 2019. Despite taking steps toward decreasing domestic gun violence, the Legislature still has work to do. House Bill 2251 and Senate Bill 192 require domestic abusers to relinquish their guns until legally prompted otherwise. By passing these bills, the state would take a firm stance against domestic violence while enforcing gun safety.

Many people who oppose gun safety legislation often cite their support for the Second Amendment, arguing that the Constitution provides them a right to bear arms. However, these legislative proposals do not undermine the Second Amendment.

Requiring the government to ensure that those purchasing guns are not a safety threat to their communities is not undermining the Second Amendment. Requiring gun owners to apply for a license to carry concealed firearms is not undermining the Second Amendment. And punishing domestic abusers who use firearms to inflict pain on others is not undermining the Second Amendment. Rather, each of these proposals is intended to stop the countless deaths stemming from gun violence.

For those who are concerned about government spending, especially following the large stimulus packages aimed to combat the economic pitfalls of the COVID-19 pandemic, gun reform will save the country money. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun violence costs the country $280 billion annually. By passing gun safety legislation, money that is currently dedicated to medical costs, policing costs and court costs as a result of gun violence can be redirected to increased state aid, small businesses or other noble causes.

Quickly turning off reports of gun violence on the nightly news and worrying that a neighbor’s celebratory fireworks might cause my brother distress are not how I want to continue living my life, and I don’t want that for Kansans, either. To create a safer environment, Kansas must adopt these proposals and protect Kansans from more senseless gun deaths.

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Paul Samberg
Paul Samberg

Paul Samberg, originally from Sandy Hook, Connecticut, is a senior at the University of Kansas studying journalism, Jewish studies and political science. With a passion for public policy and communications, he looks forward to doing his part in creating an equitable, just society.