Leaders of Kansas City’s faith community gathered Thursday morning at Martin Luther King Jr. Park and demanded U.S. senators pass bipartisan legislation requiring universal background checks on gun sales.
“Enough is enough,” said Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III, senior pastor of the St. James United Methodist Church in Kansas City during the news conference.
“We want to stand up for our children,” he said. “But it’s not just our children experiencing gun violence. It’s adults. It’s everyone.”
The gathering was timed for the moment a gunman opened fire Tuesday at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, killing 19 children and two adults. The gunman, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, was reportedly killed by law enforcement at the scene.
The massacre, the worst school shooting since 28 people died in December 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, prompted an outcry for stiffer gun control measures.
Cleaver spoke about a conversation he had Wednesday morning with his daughter, a junior in high school who was about to take final exams. The chat, however, wasn’t about whether she had studied enough or whether she was prepared.
Instead it focused on being aware of her surroundings, paying attention and whether she knew what to do in case of an emergency, he said.
“I know there’s been a lot of debate about gun laws, but there’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we really come together and work together,” Cleaver said. “That’s what we are asking for. That’s what we are pleading for with our elected officials.”
Gun safety laws have to be a top priority, he said.
“Think of our children,” Cleaver said. “Think of our nation.”
Last year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills to expand background checks on firearm purchases — one that would have closed a loophole for private and online sales, and the other would have extended the review period for background checks.
Both languished in the U.S. Senate, unable to overcome a Republican filibuster.
The pastors in Kansas City called for the passage of House Resolution 8, which has been passed by the House of Representatives, but has not yet been subject to a Senate vote. They called on Republicans and Democrats to work together.
That piece of legislation calls for new background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearms to conduct a background check.
It does not apply to certain firearm transfers, such as a gift between spouses done in good faith.
“I think when we have the means to do something and we don’t do anything, we also are culpable — we also have some responsibilities for what happens in our schools,” said Rev. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood.
The hope is that state and national legislators will do something this time around, he said.
Rev. Tom Are Jr., senior pastor of Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, urged lawmakers to take immediate action to end the surge of gun violence.
“We are here as people of faith and we are here as people of shame because we can do better than this and it doesn’t have to be this way,” he said. “No nation of honor sacrifices its children like this.”
The call for reform comes as Kansas City has suffered 65 homicides so far this year, the vast majority a result of shootings. The city is outpacing last year’s homicide rate, which become the second deadliest year on record following a record 182 killings in 2020.