Imagine All the People

Almost every week a child is shot in St. Louis, often making the front page of the local paper. Gunshot victims are routinely admitted to the hospital right next door to my home. This is the neighborhood where I live.

Emergency room doctors urge us to remove firearms from our homes while they work round the clock to save the lives of gun violence victims, some just babies. Police chiefs ask for our help to address their number one concern: keeping their officers from being shot. This is the city where I live.

Parents, like me, send their children to school in Jonesboro, AR; Springfield, OR; Littleton, CO; Lancaster, PA; (Virginia Tech) Blacksburg, VA; (Northern Illinois U) in DeKalb, IL; and Newton, CT and expect them to come home safely without being shot. Some, however, have not. These are communities, similar to mine, where I live.

Gun violence is real in Missouri, whether it's domestic violence, drive by shootings, careless accidents or suicide. Almost everyone I know can name a friend or relative who has been killed by a firearm. This is the state where I live.

In Florida a teenage boy while walking home, was stalked, shot and killed by a neighborhood vigilante who has now gone free. 54 people were shot in Chicago alone during the trial of that shooter, George Zimmerman. On average, 28 people have been shot to death each day since the Sandy Hook school shooting last December with a total of 14 mass shootings. Each year 100 preschoolers are shot, some even by other children. This is the country where I live.

In Jefferson City, Missouri, the majority of my elected colleagues are beholden to the gun manufacturer's lobby and vote to pass their bills. The majority of my state legislators voted to nullify federal gun laws, make it a crime for federal law enforcement to do their jobs and to arm teachers (over the objection of superintendents statewide). Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones and Majority Floor Leader John Diehl, both St. Louis attorneys, supported and promoted this agenda all the way to the governor's desk. This is the state Capitol where I serve.

Recently I was asked on a radio show in St. Louis if I was against gun companies making a profit. Profit by companies turning their back while citizens, and our children, continue to be killed? That's a no brainer to me. Car, pharmaceutical and toy companies have all immediately withdrawn or altered their products in the name of safety when just a handful have died. Profit is one thing. Responsibility as funerals multiply is another.

I believe there are solutions as do many of us. This past spring I was part of the White House Initiative on Preventing Gun Violence, working with law enforcement, medical community, elected officials, school administrators, anyone connected to the firearm industry and survivors from all over the country. Ideas were narrowed to a concrete plan titled "Now is the Time".

I sponsored the universal background checks for firearm sales in our state legislature as did fellow legislators in other states. Similar to the bi-partisan Toomey/Manchin U.S. Senate bill produced by the White House initiative, Missouri HB187 would require all sales, including those on the internet and at gun shows, to undergo federal background checks. Already 60% of gun sales are subject to federal checks but the 40% which are exempt is disturbing. An overwhelming 85% of Missourians, including gun owners and N.R.A. members support background checks on all firearm sales, as do 90% of Americans. In 1999 after the Columbine High School mass shooting, the N.R.A. favored extending background checks but has since changed their tune when manufacturers realized their profit margin would decrease. What happened in Missouri with the background check bill this past session? Absolutely nothing. My bill was not even granted a hearing.

Instead of silence from the gun manufacturer's lobby after the next mass shooting, what if there was a sincere effort for collective responsibility? What if one firearm company expressed concern and locked hands with citizens to do everything possible to avoid additional gun deaths?

Imagine a manufacturer stepping forward and turning the conversation.

One company could insist on built in childproof trigger locks and agree to limit for purchase the number of high capacity ammunition magazines for the sake of safety. One company might join with the huge number of N.R.A. members (unlike the N.R.A. leadership) who advocate similar safe guards. It would only take one corporation to join with state and federal officers to keep criminals and those with mental illness from legally purchasing them. Just one manufacturer could commit to ending gun trafficking that plagues our cities and assist law enforcement in tracing stolen and illegal guns. One company might spark another's actions.

Just as we've seen in other disasters, responsible actions by corporations without emphasis on profit margins earn the public's trust and admiration. This is the place where I'd like to live.

There are concrete solutions to saving lives if every one of us steps up, including the business community.

Imagine a safe environment for teachers, first responders, law enforcement and all children, regardless of their zip code. Imagine a political climate with donors who refuse to reward elected officials who do not value our safety. Imagine on Election Day, those who stand up for saving lives are the ones elected to lead with sensible legislation we all demand.

Envision a safe peaceful community for everyone. That is a place where we all should live. Just imagine...