Activists, a political candidate and a Jefferson City Council member urged residents to keep the conversation regarding gun violence prevention alive and to find common ground among people of different political stances.
The Cole County Democratic Party hosted a forum Saturday to discuss strategies to prevent gun violence and school shootings in Jefferson City and across the nation. The forum was moderated by Jefferson City Councilmen Ken Hussey. The organization Sandy Hook Promise was represented by Susan Cook-Williams. MOMS Demand Action was also present with members Debbie Crossnoe and Susan Randolph, and all five candidates for the 60th Missouri House District were invited to attend, but only Kevin Nelson was present on the panel. About 10 members of the public were in attendance, including Municipal Judge Cotton Walker.
The panel discussed methods to promote gun violence prevention legislation, influence political representatives and lead public discussions on these issues in local communities.
Hussey opened the forum by reading the Second Amendment aloud. He said the amendment was intended to keep Americans safe, and safety should be the first priority over political or cultural affiliations.
Hussey then listed some of the gun-related bills under debate in the Missouri Legislature. Only one of the bills mentioned was supported on a bi-partisan level, a Democrat-sponsored bill to offer tax deductions for firearms training. The other bills Hussey mentioned are sponsored by Republicans to expand gun rights like increasing the number of places where people can carry a concealed weapon to include churches, school campuses and bars.
The panel agreed common sense should dictate bars and day cares are not places for firearms but recognized everyone's interpretation of common sense do not align. Randolph said it is important to use fact-based information to debate gun rights advocates who use subjective concepts of liberty and independence to proliferate access and reliance on guns throughout society as a form of protection. She said alcohol and firearms are a dangerous combination, and children are more likely to be impacted by gun violence if there is a loaded gun accessible in homes.
Nelson said it is because these differences of opinion exist that it is crucial to keep conversations alive and find shared values between people of differing political stances. Thoughtful gun violence prevention concepts should be considered no matter which political party presents a solution, he added, but people have to be willing to entertain new ideas for progress to be made.
"This is the time (to address gun violence), and we are the people to get it started and do it. If we wait simply for others to do it, it's not going to get done," Nelson said. "I am going to act. I don't want to just let it go. And if your representatives would rather listen to NRA lobbyist than their constituents, people need to come together and vote them out of office."
Crossnoe said polls have shown most Americans support some form of gun reform, and political representatives should be paying more attention to the feelings of their constituents.
Many members of the audience agreed some Missouri politicians seem more concerned with the needs of their political donors, like the NRA's leadership, than their constituents. Randolph said her group is not against gun owners or NRA members but rather the elite leadership within the NRA that work to hinder gun violence prevention legislation.
The panel also discussed the importance of community members in recognizing and reacting to young people who may be at risk of committing gun violence.
There is not a formula to predict who will become a school shooter. Many school shooters do not have a diagnosable mental illnesses. And several have been stand-out students, but Cook-Williams said they are often young men who are dealing with depression in various ways. Instead of isolating or ostracizing these individuals, panelists said it is important for community members like teachers, students and parents to reach out to these troubled students and offer them positive ways to deal with negative emotions and problems.