TOPEKA — During National Suicide Prevention Month, gun safety advocates shed light on rising rates of firearm suicide in the state.
Shannon Little, the chapter co-lead for Kansas Moms Demand Action, and organization volunteer Ann Williamson discussed the need for more gun safety measures during a Kansas Reflector podcast.
Little said the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school mass shooting marked the start of her gun safety advocacy journey. Twenty-six people, mostly children, died that day.
“On the day of the Sandy Hook shooting, I was taking my then 8-month-old son to get his first Santa pictures taken,” Little said. “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 it just devastated me that in four or five years, the child that was getting his first Santa picture taken could be killed in school. And that as a country, we weren’t doing anything to stop that.”
For Williamson, the 2018 Parkland shooting, which happened when her daughter was a month old, left a deep impact.
“That day, I think I cried all day long,” Williamson said.
The two advocate for passing more common-sense gun control measures in the state. Under Kansas law, anyone 21 or older can carry a concealed weapon without training or licensing, but getting a license allows Kansans to carry a concealed gun in other states.
In the recent legislative session, lawmakers voted to do away with the $100 fee paid to the attorney general’s office to obtain a concealed weapon license. In advocating for the fee removal, one lawmaker said paying the firearm fee was a violation of “God-given rights.”
Williamson said she wanted more safe storage laws, such as storing guns separately from ammunition.
“They’re loosening laws instead of making stronger laws, kind of in direct opposition to the governor,” Williamson said. “And that’s really tough. There were two or four safe storage bills in the Kansas Legislature last year, and they didn’t go anywhere.”
The organization’s state initiatives include passing out free gun locks, tabling at community events and offering resources about safe storage laws and gun safety protocols.
The two are especially concerned with rising firearm suicide rates across the state. Kansas had the 10th-highest suicide rate in the U.S. for youths between ages 15-24 and the 11th-highest for youths between ages 10-14 in the 2016-2020 time period, according to a Kansas Health Institute study.
During that timeframe, 60.9% of male youths who died by suicide used a firearm, while 24.2% of female deaths by suicide were firearm-related. The overall firearm suicide rate continued to increase in 2021, rising 12.4%.
Little expressed disappointment about recent legislative action. Lawmakers on a mental health committee recently rejected recommendations for gun safety measures, such as gun locks, looking instead to social media and the Internet as areas of concern.
“I understand that they want to address the underlying causes of suicide in Kansas,” Little said. “But if there’s something that could work towards prevention while they’re investigating those causes, and researching that more, why wouldn’t they want to help? Why wouldn’t they want to save children and save teenagers?”
She estimated about 68% of gun violence in Kansas is through firearms suicide.
“We support responsible gun ownership,” Little said. “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 firearms.”