Too much death has shadowed this season of joy, leaving hearts aching with loss and minds churning with questions.
If mass shootings seem depressingly routine in our country, until Friday few could have imagined one at an elementary school with a death toll including 20 first-graders. An elementary classroom is supposed to be a sanctuary for learning and fun, and no place where innocent children are shot as many as 11 times each and brave teachers die trying to protect them.
Then on Sunday night the routine investigation of a suspicious vehicle led to the shooting deaths of two Topeka police officers, Cpl. David Gogian, 50, and Officer Jeff Atherly, 29. All Kansans share with Topeka in the shock and sorrow of the slayings, which lengthen the list of law enforcement officers who’ve sacrificed their lives serving and protecting citizens in the state.
Wichita also has had what seems like more than its share of deadly violence of late, with the senseless double murder at a Dollar General store among the eight local homicides since Thanksgiving.
For their part, policymakers must examine where the perpetrators’ responsibility intersects with their own regarding mental health funding, gun regulation and more.
Yes, gun ownership for self-protection and sport is a cherished right in our nation. But lobbyists have so elevated the Second Amendment that it is politically untouchable even in the face of alarming data about the carnage, such as that 5- through 14-year-olds in the United States are 13 times as likely to be killed with guns as those in other countries. After this year that has seen seven mass shootings claim 65 lives, a frank discussion at least is overdue about the easy availability of large-capacity magazines.
And the second-worst school shooting in U.S. history will be fresh on the minds of Kansas lawmakers as they consider again whether to overrule the Kansas Board of Regents and university chiefs of police and allow the concealed carry of handguns on college campuses. After the reluctant repeals of local ordinances against open carry of firearms in Wichita and Overland Park, state legislators also will be pressured to restore some local control over how people carry firearms.
In their pursuit of smaller government, and in the wake of budget-busting tax cuts, Gov. Sam Brownback and lawmakers must not neglect the state’s responsibility to fund community mental health centers. Several years of “state budget cuts are putting the state CMHC system at a breaking point,” according to Sedgwick County’s 2013 legislative platform, which advocates that funding be restored.
Despite our best efforts, there will always be evil people willing to commit heinous acts. But we should take seriously the opportunity and responsibility to try to intervene and stop them – especially now that we know the violence won’t stop at an elementary school’s doors.
For the editorial board, Rhonda Holman