Hello Kansas reflector listeners. This is Reporter Rachael Mipro. And I'm here today with Shannon Liddell, the chapter co lead for Kansas Moms Demand Action. And organization volunteer in Williamson. Thank you both for coming in today.
Thanks for having us. Yes, thank you.
So let's just begin with a little bit of personal intros what brought you guys here to this work?
I think I've always been concerned about John prevention. But I was working at a newspaper. And then once I left the paper, and left anything where jobs that anything, you know, somebody might take as that jobs opinion. But yeah, 28 teen, my daughter was a month old and was in the hospital for RSV. And on Valentine's Day, they had someone who had attacked Parkland High School in Florida. And so that entire day, I think I cried all day long. And then the other day, I cried all day long. But it still took me a while, like, I was still looking for a sign to say, Should I join this. And in June of 2018, there was an attack on a newspaper where a friend of mine worked. And he wasn't there that day, but it still is devastating for him. And I had worked in a newspaper for years. And the fourth of July parade, parade, through one of the parks happen, and the Moms Demand people from Topeka or walking in it. And we're getting lots of cheers, and there was a sign that said, text this number to this. And so I did. And so yeah, I started volunteering in July of 2018.
So I hope I can, took me a while to find Moms Demand Action. My story is that, on the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, I was taking my then eight month old son to get his first center pictures taken. And my husband called me and told me not to turn on the radio or the TV. And so of course, the first thing I did was turn on the radio. And I just devastated me that in four or five years, the child that was getting his first Santa's picture taken could be killed in school. And that as a country, we weren't doing anything to stop that. At the time Moms Demand Action had not formed yet. It was actually begun after Sandy Hook by Shannon watts. And so for a few years, you know, there wasn't really much to do except be frustrated. And then, little by little I just learned about Moms Demand Action, watched the news kept my eye on things at the statehouse and saw that there was an organization and met a few of the moms and got involved with the Topeka chapter, I think in 2018.
So for both of you, this sort of stemmed out of a place of concern for your children as well. Yeah.
But our children, right. Sorry. But yeah, definitely. All of our children, children in general, it's it's not just our kids, it's our Yeah, our kids, classmates, our neighbors, kids, kids in Kansas kids in the country.
You don't have to be a mom to join Moms Demand. So we call it mothers and others. Anyone is invited to a moms to win. And you know, I know there's people out there that have the same stories. We do. There needs to be that tipping point join
in let's talk about the state of gun laws here in Kansas. How'd you guys feel in general about our gun control laws and our common sense gun violence measures?
I would say not happy at all. They're loosening laws, instead of making stronger laws kind of in direct opposition to the governor. And that's really tough. We there were two or four safe storage bills in the Kansas legislature last year and they He didn't go anywhere. Safe Storage is what we're focusing on right now. So that your kids, people that shouldn't have guns, don't get them as easily as they could. And what we're asking is ammunition and your weapon to be short, stored separately in a locked box.
Yeah, I would agree with Dan, that there's a lot more that could be done in the legislature to prevent gun violence in the state of Kansas, we can be taking steps to pass a secure storage law that would do exactly what Anne said that would require people to keep their firearms securely stored, keep ammunition stored separately, and in that way, hopefully, decrease unintentional shootings, gun violence, keeping people who shouldn't have access to a firearm from accessing a firearm. And, yeah, absolutely, there are a lot of there's a hole where there should be some kind of got common sense, gun laws and gun violence prevention legislation, helping to keep Kansans and our communities safer from gun violence.
I know your organization has plus back to especially active this month with Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Tell me a bit about some of the initiatives your organization has decided to work on this month.
Well, we do have a lot going on this month, but we do things to help prevent gun suicide year round, we have an education program called Be smart for kids. And SMART is an acronym. Instead, it's it stands for Secure model, ask, recognize the role of firearms and gun suicide, and then talk to your peers about it. And so you're spreading this message, the more you talk about it. Recognizing the role of firearms in gun suicide is really important because 68% of all of the gun violence in Kansas, is gun suicide. So a lot of people don't really make the connection that gun suicide is also gun violence, but it very much is gun violence. There are survivors of gun suicide. And just just the same as there are survivors of gun homicide, and gun suicide is just as violent as gun homicide. And we should be definitely dedicating more of our time and resources. The other piece to our education with be smart for kids is that we are sharing free gun locks. As we get them into our system, which sometimes we're able to finance them on our own. Sometimes we rely on donations from the Kansas Highway Patrol. But as we get them, we are redistributing them back out into the community. We're making connections with community organizations, and saying, Hey, can we show up at your event and have a table there are unanswered questions about secure storage and give out free gun locks. So to peek at school districts has been has been great to pick up public schools. We have handed out probably 200 gun locks through them over the past year. We have also partnered with I'm trying to think I'm drawing a blank now. Um Oh, I'm sorry. Save kids. Yeah, save kids through Kansas Department of Health and Environment. And we were at the Safe Kids day at the zoo. And I think we were in the hundreds of gun locks that we handed out that day. So we support responsible gun ownership. We just want to have those conversations with adults and caregivers and gun owners about how to keep those firearms safe and how to keep their kids safe and how to keep anybody who shouldn't have a firearm for any reason safe from those those firearms and the unintended consequences of an unsecured firearm so we're here to support secure and safe gun ownership.
What she said they you know, gun locks are kind of hard to get during the pandemic. We didn't get if any, so that was really tough. So if anybody would want to donate a cable gun lock to us, that would be fantastic.
And if you have someone in your life that that if you have a gun lock that you're not using and you have someone that you know has a firearm, you can offer it to them. Even if you don't know what if they have children around at anything, anything makes it makes it safer to have a gun lock being used rather than not being used.
In our meeting today comes after a mental health committee done by lawmakers in which they said we need to look at the underlying causes of suicide. And in terms of gun violence, specifically, like as you say, a large number of the two sides in this state, both at a youth level and at the adult level happened using firearms. But lawmakers were saying that things like gun locks, they wouldn't necessarily recommend as an effective tool for suicide prevention. Can I get your thoughts on that?
That makes me really sad that they're not even willing to look at something that is a common sense solution that could prevent at least gun suicide. So we know that I think it's 90% of suicide attempts with a firearm are successful. Whereas if it's not a firearm, only 4% are successful. So if there's something that they could be doing, why wouldn't they? And I understand that they want to address the underlying causes of suicide in Kansas. But if there's something that could work towards prevention, while they're investigating those clauses, and researching that more, why why wouldn't they want to help? Why wouldn't they want to save children and save teenagers? And Kansans?
So again, we kind of hear this common rhetoric over and over again, that we need to be looking at the underlying causes. I mean, what do you think of that, but like, we need to be looking at mental health reasons instead of gun safety measures.
Again, I think that that's great, we can dedicate resources to looking at underlying causes. Absolutely. That's definitely something that's worthy of being looked at. And and delved into more, but I think that the important thing is that we simultaneously need to be providing a way to decrease suicide by gun.
And then let's talk about what you would like to see as an organization in the state,
we'd like to make it harder for people that shouldn't have guns, having guns. It's 18, now that you can concealed carry, and you don't have to take a class for it anymore. It's really kind of difficult. And if anybody has like a red flag on, you know, for them, people in domestic violence, shoot and have guns, people who are suicidal, obviously should not be allowed to get a gun. It's just, it's really tough to understand why. I mean, especially for the legislative part, why they won't listen to experts in the field.
At think we just want to see common sense gun legislation. We don't want there to be a restriction on firearm ownership for responsible gun owners, and people that are using firearms safer instance for hunting and that are taking good care to make sure that they are securing their firearms, and they're taking hunter education classes, and they're making sure that they're modeling responsible behavior around children. We don't want to see that be impacted. What we do want to see is people to be held accountable for a failure to be responsible in their gun ownership and failing to securely store their firearms. I think a lot of Kansans really agree. I mean, that's one thing as as Kansans, Kansans like accountability. You know, they're very responsible and they pride themselves on kind of taking care of themselves in their communities. And I think that's one thing that there really is more agreement on. Once you actually sit down and start talking to people about what We're trying to do we're not trying to take anything away from them. And most gun owners are being responsible. But for the ones that aren't, you know, there needs to be more accountability. And I think that a large amount of Kansans can agree on that.
Yeah. So you're a kid you just moved here, like two years ago is
no 22,001. To know. Yeah, there we go. 22. Yeah,
anything surprising to you about like gun control last year or
so I'm from New Mexico. And I don't necessarily have a survivor story, I would not consider myself a survivor of any type of gun violence. But growing up in New Mexico, I was in a large city in Albuquerque, and there was a lot of gun violence there. There were kids in high schools, when I was in high school that were getting shot at parties and things like that I was never there because I was not cool enough to go to parties. But that, that kind of influenced me being a little bit, I guess numb to it sort of in a way. But it was there and prevalent. And so then I come out to Kansas. And Topeka is a far smaller city than Albuquerque. And so there's not as much I'm not seeing in my communities. And where I live in Topeka, I'm not seeing as much gun violence. But in the state of New Mexico, they've taken really big steps, they have background checks on all gun sales, they have a Red Flag Law, which is an extreme risk protection order, where if someone deems that a person would be a risk to themselves or others with a firearm, they go through due process of law to go to court, and it is deemed appropriate for them to relinquish their firearms. There's one other law that Dave enacted in New Mexico of it is, goes into that, that's fear of really great Gun Violence Protection. And that kind of told me, Wow, this, this was a much bigger issue than maybe I thought it was growing up. But they've taken such great steps. They've been so progressive on this issue. And I, it's really, but it had to get to as bad as it was. And I feel like Kansas is there. But we just have a different culture. And it's more rural here. And there's a lot more hunting. And it's just part of the frontiersman kind of culture of Kansas. But I do think that we have just as good and careful and kind people here in Kansas as we do in New Mexico. So I've got some faith that things will progress in that direction. It's kind of hard to compare. I wasn't I wasn't thinking about that when I was preparing for this today, but just off the cuff. I think that's how the two
and it's really interesting. You mentioned here about the gun culture, sort of, you know, I've heard one lawmaker say it's sort of like how he grew up sort of way of life just having guns around. I mean, any thoughts on that?
Having guns around like, I guess, you know, there used to be pickup trucks with gun again, think of gun holders in the back of a pickup truck. Like everyone was doing that where I grew up.
It was part of the you grew up in I
grew up in Montana. I've been here for 21 years by but at some point that went away like you were no longer driving around with a rifle all of the time. I don't know what sparked the taking out the guns but it definitely just years go by and I'm like Peyton, nobody really has a gun rack in their vehicle anymore. What why? So that was pretty surprising. I don't think really Kansas is that different from Montana, Montana is a very rural state and depends on tourism as their main focus. I, you know, hunting seasons are longer you can get, you know, you can get different tickets for whatever you want to hunt. But it just, it's the same way in Kansas like there's a couple different hunting seasons that Go on here. I think, you know, Montana has definitely loosened that their gun laws that they have. And so has Kansas, like, I think. I don't know how to say it. But it's, it's like everybody gets together at some point all the states and they're like, Okay, we're all gonna do this. And then there's other states and and people that said, No, you're not. So I don't know if that makes any sense at all.
No, I like the idea. If gun culture is sort of an ingrained part of our society, especially here in Kansas, how do you sort of, you know, implement effectively the sort of measures you guys are trying to get across?
I think a lot of it is in communication, and building coalitions of people that want to work together on this issue. And it's not just groups of people, it's Kansas, it's just all Kansans together. I think that, again, a lot of Kansans that if you really have these kinds of conversations with them, they do agree about the responsibility and the accountability. It is it's it's a huge cultural shift. But I think that it's definitely worth the time and the energy that it takes to talk to our friends talk to our neighbors, because we're doing this for all Kansans. We're doing it for our kids, we're doing it for everyone else's kids. We're doing it for the grownups in Kansas. So we're willing to work with anyone who wants to work with us on this. And like Anne said, its mothers and others. Anybody who wants to see a safer gun culture? In Kansas, we're here? I think it's going to take a lot of time, and a lot of clear communication. And just a lot of working together.
Is our legislature being helpful with this? Are they promoting a gun culture, per se?
I would say that, that they are focused more on maintaining the status quo of gun culture in Kansas. They're also part of who we need to work with, and people that we need to have conversations with, and share more dialogue and find our common ground.
Have you worked carefully with this? Have you seen any lawmaker responses to your initiatives?
In general, we do have some great allies in the legislature. The governor is a great ally for us. And she is very helpful. I think we share the perspective of we have to come at this from a centrist point of view. Because this isn't just a Democrat issue or a Republican issue. It's an everyone issue. So we've we've got her support and help and she's been great. And the legislators who do understand we appreciate them very much. And we really look forward to being able to talk to more legislators and hope that they're open to hearing our message as time goes by.
And then, I guess our last question here today will be what do you hope to see going forward?
I would like to see more red flag laws made into our Kansas law, instead of loosening everything, I think, you know, a lot of legislators once they meet us and hear what we're actually working on instead of being afraid of the red shirts. It would it's they think, the same way we do and a ton of Kansas thinks the same way we do. And even even like all Americans, there's a certain percentage that agree with the gun laws that the common sense gun laws that we like to have. So it's just, it's tough to Yeah, it is tough to get each one of them one on one. And it's also tough to break a culture that has been around for as many years as Kansas has been a state. So it's just a different way of thinking. And your thoughts
on Um, I would like to see the legislature take a more serious look at secure storage laws, because that is the responsibility that all Kansans kind of have ingrained as part of their culture as well. As well as the gun culture, responsible gun ownership, having legislators take a look at that take a look at helping adults maintain that responsibility to keep children and anyone who shouldn't have a firearm secure from an intended firearm injuries and shootings. So secure storage, I think is is definitely something that I'd like to see happen more of in our state, whether that's through legislation or through outreach, by the be SMART program.
And is there anything else we should be looking out for in the future in terms of your initiatives or anything you want to bring attention to now?
So we do have a statewide Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a call that is going to be happening on September 25, at 7pm. It's a virtual call and statewide. We will have panelists from headquarters counseling, which I believe goes by a different name. Now, so I might need to reference that, but we're going to be talking about the 988 service. We're going to be talking to some survivors of gun violence, by suicide or by suicide by gun on that call, and we're going to just kind of share experiences, resources, and how we can work as a community to prevent suicide by gun in Kansas.
I think we'll under there for today. Thank you both for coming in.