Monday, March 24, 2014

Legislative remedies are needed to address gun violence

The below, which I wrote with Mayor Sly James, also is published as an As I See It column in today's Kansas City Star:

We often are asked what we’re doing to combat violent crime, and why we seem to have more than other cities of similar size. We think that is a fair question and want to assure the community that we are doing everything in our power to stop the bloodshed.  Our long-term efforts range from the Turn the Page KC third grade reading initiative, to the Kansas City No Violence Alliance (KCNoVA), a program with local, state and federal partners that targets the city’s most violent offenders for aggressive prosecution and offers minor offenders social services so they can change their ways.

But there are things beyond our power that would significantly reduce violent crime in Kansas City. We stand united in our conviction that something must be done to address the issue of illegal guns. Of the 106 homicides in our city last year, 90 were committed with a handgun. We can’t alleviate the issue of gun violence until we address the issue of people who have guns that shouldn’t, and that is something that must be done in the Missouri Legislature.  To that end, we applaud the efforts of Representative Brandon Ellington, who filed House Bill 2159 last week.

House Bill 2159 addresses two badly needed legislative remedies that have proven remarkably effective in reducing gun violence in other cities nationwide: universal background checks and mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns. These provisions promote responsible gun ownership by law-abiding residents while preventing firearms from falling into the hands of those who would use them to hurt or kill others.

Did you know that currently either of us could meet you in a parking lot and legally sell you a gun with no record of the transaction and no background check required at all? Or you could go to a gun show and do the very same? A study by the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research published in last month’s Journal of Urban Health found the 2007 repeal of the Missouri law requiring a background check on all firearm purchases has contributed to an additional 55 to 63 murders each year from 2008 to 2012. We’d venture to say most of those occurred in Kansas City and St. Louis (another city plagued by gun violence disproportional to its population). There is a clear correlation, and states that have universal background checks have fewer homicides. It just makes sense. Multiple studies have shown between 85 and 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, including 74 percent of National Rifle Association members.

Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms is another tool that could reduce our city’s gun violence. This deters gun trafficking and can help solve crimes. Police may trace a gun used in a crime to its original owner, but that person can claim it was stolen to hide his or her involvement in the crime or in a gun trafficking scheme. 

Chicago implemented a mandatory stolen firearm reporting law last year and watched its previously record-breaking homicide numbers plummet to the lowest level in 50 years.

Legislation like this would do so much to make Missouri’s metropolitan areas safer.

A large focus of legislative efforts pertaining to guns has been the unconstitutional Senate Bill 613. That bill would severely undermine the ability to solve and prevent crimes and seeks to nullify all federal gun laws in Missouri. Although the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause prevents this, and it was vetoed last year, legislators continue to push it through with little concern for the dangerous impact it will have on cities. A provision of SB 613 would make it a crime for anyone to enforce federal gun laws. This would essentially require Kansas City Police to arrest the FBI, ATF and other federal agents with whom they work every day. This legislation would destroy KC NoVA. It could stop the federal prosecution of felons in possession of firearms, which has put so many violent offenders behind bars over the years. It would halt the investigation and prosecution of hundreds of cases, leaving violent criminals on the streets. We cannot emphasize enough how damaging and dangerous this law would be if passed, and we urge residents to reach out to their legislators to ask them to stop it and support House Bill 2159 instead.

We vow to work together to reduce gun violence in Kansas City. But we need the help of the Missouri Legislature to make a significant impact on the safety of our community.