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Addressing the Gun Violence Crisis

Our Gun Responsibility and Commonsense Gun Reform

On Valentine’s Day, we lost 17 children and teachers in Parkland, Florida, in another devastating school shooting. I know most politicians reacted immediately, offering “thoughts and prayers” or demanding “common sense gun reform,” but this time it’s different. The victims of this shooting are speaking out. I am inspired by our young people engaging our leaders to demand change and taking action. It is time for a real dialogue about how we protect our kids at school.

It is not helpful for me to immediately claim to have the perfect solution; it is my job to listen. Before I spoke out on this issue, I needed to listen to my friends and family, to volunteers and supporters, to those who vehemently support the Second Amendment and those who demand action. I place equal value on the opinions of those who agree with me and those who do not.

The common thread that unites us all is heartache, fear, and above all, pain. This cannot become the new normal. We must do better.

As a starting point, I believe there are reforms that must happen to reduce the opportunity for gun violence for all people, but particularly against the most vulnerable: our children. Those proposals, explained in greater detail below, are:

  • Repeal the “Dickey Amendment” that Prohibits Research Studies on Gun Violence
  • Universal Background Checks, Mental Health Screenings and Regulating “Bump Stocks”
  • Increased Funding for Teachers and School Counselors to Support Our At-Risk Students
  • Require Training To Purchase Firearms, and Set a Consistent Purchase Age
  • Require Permits for Concealed Carry
  • Providing Security Device with Each Gun Sale
  • Strong Enforcement of Existing Criminal Laws

It is long past the time for us all come together and figure out how we protect our kids. We will never find an answer for any hard question without first starting a basic discussion.

We must begin any attempt to end mass shootings with the acceptance of an understanding of what the Supreme Court has interpreted regarding the Second Amendment right to bear arms. The original text:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State,
the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

We all have our opinions about this Amendment, but the only interpretation that ultimately matters with regard to our laws is the opinion of the United States Supreme Court. In 2004’s District of Columbia v. Heller, the landmark 5–4 Supreme Court decision, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, stated the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense, where that weapon has been in “common use.” In discussing whether the Second Amendment only applies to the weapons of the time when the Constitution was written, the Court said “the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding” (Emphasis added). That is to say, the firearms available today in the common use are, in the opinion of the Supreme Court, protected by the Second Amendment. Based on the precedent laid out in Heller, and considering the current makeup of the Supreme Court, I believe the Supreme Court would find firearms in “common use” includes the AR-15 and therefore find unconstitutional any attempt to ban them.

However, the Supreme Court in Heller went on to say:  

“Nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.” (Emphasis added.)

Heller leaves the possibility of regulation open, yet does seem to set limits on the scope of regulation.

That is to say: reform, under this framework, is possible. However, it must pass Constitutional muster. Heller laid out a framework, but it’s up to creative minds to find solutions.

As a civil rights attorney and Second Amendment advocate, I’ve included some potential action steps to consider in this discussion. No one has the perfect answer, but I hope these suggestions will be a starting point for us to define what “common sense gun reform” could actually look like and how we begin taking steps to protect our kids and our civil liberties:

 

  • Repeal the “Dickey Amendment” that Prohibits CDC Research Studies on Gun Violence

In 1997, The “Dickey Amendment” passed and effectively barred the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying firearm-related violence and its effects.

This Amendment was named after Republican Rep. Jay Dickey of Arkansas, who was strongly supported by the National Rifle Association. While many gun owners are members of the NRA, it is important to remember that the NRA lobbies our elected officials on behalf of corporate gun manufacturers, not gun owners. This is why I have committed not to accept any contributions from the not just the NRA, but any corporate PAC money to my campaign. My campaign is powered by individuals, not lobbyists.

The Dickey Amendment creates an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty for researchers who risk having their funding pulled if their study is deemed to advocate or promote “gun control.” When we prevent our best and brightest from studying this issue, we do a disservice to the American people. Research must be conducted to allow reasoned analysis of this crisis in America and suggestions on how to minimize these shootings within the constitutional framework of the Second Amendment.

 

  • Universal Background Checks, Mental Health Screenings and Regulating “Bump Stocks”

More than 91 percent of Americans believe universal background checks need to be required for the purchase of every gun, regardless of where they are purchased. It has become common practice for companies track our consumer and viewing habits and target ads to us based on that data. It would be simple to create a comprehensive database for private and commercial sellers of guns.

I enjoy going to gun shows. I have sold guns at gun shows. However, to resist the implementation of instant background checks is unnecessary. This resistance is simply fear-mongering, and in the light of this most recent tragedy, it’s madness. A system giving a thumbs up or thumbs down for guns sales can be instituted to allow background checks by private sellers, so private sales and trades can occur safely within the Constitutional bounds of the law. To make this program work, Congress must focus on encouraging full participation of every state in this instant background check program, not settling for the patchwork system we have now that provides lack of consistency state to state.

We should also consider required mental health screening for the purchase of high capacity weapons to identify those who are not mentally fit to possess a gun. This should include those with a history of domestic abuse or violence, and those who have shown a documented predilection for violent behavior. We must empower our public officials, law enforcement officers, and health workers to identify and report such behavior, and create a process for this behavior to prevent those who would do harm from acquiring a firearm. Further, we need to take steps to protect the due process rights of those placed on this list unnecessarily or accidentally.

However, every country in the world has citizens with mental health issues, but they do not suffer from mass shootings like the United States. We must avoid further stigmatizing our mentally ill brothers and sisters, the vast majority of whom are nonviolent and will remain nonviolent.

Requiring universal background checks for the purchase of any firearm and some firearm accessories and creating a comprehensive database is not popular among some guns rights advocates. However, it is an important step to ensure that only law-abiding citizens have access to firearms and all sales of firearms are monitored and regulated. Just like the War on Drugs, we see that prohibitions and bans do not work. Bans create a black market and make access easier for criminals than law abiding citizens. In order to effect real change, we must start working at the source and encourage regulation that provides proper checks so we can ensure that firearms and certain accessories are only possessed by properly licensed and trained gun owners.

For example, I would support legislation that place “bump stocks” on the National Firearms Act list of weapons that prohibits ownership by a member of the public without a special license. I believe this legislation does not infringe on the Second Amendment. When the Supreme Court applies the “unusual and dangerous” test outlined in the Heller decision, I believe the regulation of “bump stocks” would be upheld. Why? “bump stocks” serve no legitimate purpose other than turning a semi-automatic weapon into a weapon that fires at the same rate as an automatic weapon.

 

  • Increased Funding for Teachers and School Counselors to Support Our At-Risk Students

No discussion of school shootings is complete without a discussion of the root cause of a school shooting itself. The Parkland, Florida, shooter displayed deeply alarming warning signs his entire life. Many people saw them, many people contacted the authorities, yet nothing was done. As a consequence of the system breaking down, no one was able to help this young man make positive change in his life while there was still time, and 17 people lost their lives.

We must look at how the system is failing our children at all levels. DCF fails our at-risk children both in and outside of foster care. Many at-risk kids are subject to a school-to-prison pipeline, making them easy targets for human traffickers and gangs. The distrust of authority that stems from being forced into this pipeline leads kids to make destructive decisions that hurt themselves or others. Our schools are overwhelmed and unable to consistently report and positively respond to behavior signaling a troubled child. We are failing to help those children who need our help the most.

More security guards in schools won’t solve this problem. We need more counselors, therapists, and mental health professionals to support our teachers in school. We need more teachers and counselors to provide support for those students lacking sufficient mentors in their life. We don’t need to arm our teachers with weapons. We must arm them with smaller class sizes, better pay and extended education and training to provide the support to students facing crisis situations or neglect at home.

School buildings can be built or remodeled to allow for greater safety at school through the use of architectural design. So-called “choke points” with single entry/exit points, safe rooms for students, closed circuit cameras to monitor hallways, among other options.

 

  • Require Training To Purchase Firearms, and Set a Consistent Purchase Age

Guns are used for sporting events and recreation more than for anything else. However, firearms are deadly weapons. They are not toys, and the right to carry them comes with huge responsibilities. As such, we must require training before the purchase a gun. While many Kansans learn respect for guns and gun safety from family, mandating basic gun safety training for all gun owners is not unreasonable.

In order to get a hunting license in Kansas, we require a person to take and pass a hunter safety course. The course consists of subjects covering hunter responsibility, ethics, fair chase, history of firearms, firearms basics, ammunition, basic gun safety, field safety, bowhunting, conservation and wildlife management, wildlife of Kansas, outdoor emergencies, Kansas hunting regulations and boating safety for hunters. I was required to shoot a target to show I could safely aim and shoot a weapon. The course lasted an entire weekend. If we require this kind of a course for us to hunt, why would we not require such a course before purchasing a gun we intend to use to for self-defense?

All that is required to purchase a gun in Kansas is an ID and a moderately clean background. However, anyone can go to a gun show and make a private purchase of a gun without any oversight. Federal law prohibits selling a shotgun or rifle to anyone under 18. Commercial gun dealers cannot sell handguns to anyone under 21, although private sellers may sell to anyone over the age of 18. You have to be 21 to buy a beer, but you can buy an AR-15 the day you turn 18, even with no training or no idea of what that weapon can do or how to use it. That is unacceptable. These loopholes are symptomatic of the problem with a patchwork application of gun regulation in the U.S. This confusion, and consequent frustration, is what the NRA wants. These loopholes must be closed, and our laws must be universally consistent.

Rather than have two different ages for different types of guns, the age to purchase a gun should be set at 21 across the board, with exceptions for those in the military.

 

  • Require Permits for Concealed Carry

We have seen an increase in officer-involved shootings of innocent citizens, especially in Wichita. Our police officers are trained to assume every person is carrying a concealed weapon, leading to unreasonable fear and the unjustified killing of our citizens by police.

Under current Kansas law, the so-called “Constitutional Carry,” allows a person to carry a concealed weapon without a license or training. This is irresponsible and encourages people to carry guns in public without any training on how to properly care for, store, and use the firearm.

To carry a weapon, we must require people to complete basic safety training requirements. When I acquired my conceal carry license, Kansas required people attend a safety course and training. Before a person is authorized to carry a gun concealed, I suggest they must pass a background check, mental health screening, and training on the use and storage of guns. These requirements will ensure that a person is actually proficient with a gun and demonstrates an understanding of the law regarding the circumstances of when the gun can be lawfully used for self-defense. These requirements will also provide some security to our police officers that citizens lawfully carrying guns in public are trained and responsible users.

 

  • Providing Security Device with Each Gun Sale

Many gun sellers already voluntarily include cable locks or other security devices when a gun is purchased. These devices should be mandatory and included in the sale of every gun.  This is  an inexpensive way to prevent the unauthorized use of guns, and access to the guns by our  kids. The increase in gun costs would be minimal, but would assist in preventing accidental shootings by children and other inexperienced people.

 

  • Strong Enforcement of Existing Criminal Laws

If a child or another person is allowed access to a gun as a result of the owner’s negligence, or their willful and wanton conduct, and that gun is used to harm or kill another or themselves, then the gun owner should be punished accordingly. We punish people for leaving children in a hot car, but in many cases we don't punish irresponsible adults who allow a child to gain access to a gun and use it to harm themselves or others. This is inconsistent with our values of justice and responsibility. Our laws must be reviewed, acknowledged, and enforced by law enforcement at the local, state, and federal levels.


We don’t need more “thoughts and prayers.” We need to talk. We need to listen. We need to work on keeping our children safe and happy while protecting them from yet another school shooting, but also we need to take steps to stop a few of them from becoming yet another school shooter.

 

Do you have ideas that can help? Anything you want addressed? I want to hear from you. Please fill comment in the form below.


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