This week on KSMU’s Sense of Community Series, we’ll look at various aspects of firearms here in the Ozarks—from schools that already have armed teachers to the craft of firearm engraving. This segment focuses on local efforts toward what advocates call “common sense” gun laws.
Moms Demand Action is a national group formed after 20 children and six teachers were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Newtown, CT in 2012.
More people than ever before showed up for the February meeting of the local chapter of Moms Demand Action at the Library Center—just a few days after 17 students and teachers were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. President Jean Knapp said they usually have 15 or 20. Close to 70 crammed into a small room just off the children’s department.
"People are just more interested now," she said. "They're stepping off of the sidelines and into the action."
According to Knapp, the goal of the group is to fight for gun sense—a term they prefer over gun control, which she says sounds like they want to ban guns—something they don’t want to do. Things they’d like to see include more training requirements for gun owners, more vetting when military-style or AR-type guns are purchased, Knapp said, and for people deemed “dangerous” to be prohibited from owning a firearm.
Members have lobbied in Jefferson City this year against pro-gun bills such as one that expands where guns are allowed.
Knapp believes strongly in the power of grassroots efforts.
"I think when people see numbers, when people show up, I think that counts," Knapp said.
She’s hopeful the push for stronger gun laws following the school shooting in Florida will lead to change.
"I think I've seen very, very small cracks in the armor with people starting to talk about what we can do, Knapp said.
Advocates for stronger gun laws continue to make their voices heard.
Friday, students at three Springfield high schools, Kickapoo, Glendale and Central, along with students at smaller districts in the Ozarks as well as at Missouri State University and Drury, took part in SGF Walkout For Our Lives. It was organized by Grace Laflen, a Kickapoo High School Student and Hannah Brashers, a student at MSU and director of Team Millennial, a breakout group of the Southwest Missouri chapter of the National Organization for Women.
At Central, more than 200 students walked out of school at 10:15 a.m. holding signs calling for an end to gun violence.
Kelsey Zimmerman, a Central sophomore, helped organize the walkout at her school.
"Our voices are some of the most powerful voices out there. Even though most of us are minors and we can't vote yet or really do much politically, we can use our voices, and we can show everyone that we need change," she said.
Central junior, Carla Hamwi, took part in SGF Walkout because she said she's tired of being scared of a shooting happening at her school. She wants her voice heard.
"Once we all come together and voice our opinions together we can definitely get the word out and get other schools to participate," said Hamwi.
Nearby, a small group of gun rights supporters peacefully protested. One of them was Levi Castleberry who was wearing a Donald Trump campaign cap.
"Whenever you talk about any gun laws or restrictions on rights that we have, we have to look at the end goal of them," he said. "And if you start at the beginning and say, 'hey, we're going to limit these people having guns and then we're going to limit these people,' the end goal is just nobody's going to have guns, and that's why I'm here--to stop it before it gets to that point."
He believes increased safety measures are needed in schools to prevent mass shootings. And he is opposed to gun-free zones, which he feels allow people who want to bring in a gun and do harm to succeed.
People who don’t agree with views like Castleberry’s continued making their voices heard nationwide and locally Saturday. March for Our Lives on Park Central Square was on the same day as the national March for our Lives in Washington D.C.
Azul Ponce and Olivia Milligan-Choe were two of the event’s student organizers.
"We definitely saw, like, in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting that nothing was being done, and we really wanted to stand with the Parkland march in taking action," said Ponce.
"We've always been kind of politically active because we want to learn about these things and educate ourselves, and I think that, at this point, it makes no sense to not do anything," said Milligan-Choe.
Batsheva Castro-Martinez came to show her support for stronger gun laws. She feels current gun legislation is too lax.
"I mean, everything in this country is regulated," she said. "Guns should not be the exception."
She’s optimistic for the future, she said, as she looked around at others who came to the rally who share her passion for preventing further gun violence.
Hannah Brashers believes grassroots efforts, especially those by young people, can be powerful. And she’s hopeful their efforts to strengthen gun laws will lead to change.
"I think, because there are so many young people involved, I think it's going to be really powerful because of the fact that we're not going away, and we're not just going to talk about this now in this moment and forget about it," she said. "This is something we're going to be engaged in fighting long-term."
At all of the recent events, including at a town hall on gun violence at Central High School, voter registration tables were set up. Organizers encouraged those who want to make a difference to take their opinions to the ballot box.