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This unlikely pair of Kansas City gun lovers is coming together to look for solutions to violence

A young Black woman wearing a black T shirt with a red gun applique, glasses and large hoop earrings faces the camera as an older white man stands next to her, arms crossed, wearing a sweater, plaid scarf, brown cap, glasses and white beard.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
LaTasha Jacobs and Carl Smart have gotten to know one another through their affiliation with a local gun club. They'll work together in Jefferson City to persuade pro-gun legislators there's more to the problem of violence than guns.

LaTasha Jacobs and Carl Smart come from different backgrounds and have different ideas about why Kansas City's homicide rate is so high. But they plan to work together in Jefferson City to try to persuade pro-gun lawmakers to actually consider solutions such as better childcare, nutrition and education.

Carl Smart, a 71-year-old, retired electrical engineer from Independence, Missouri, and LaTasha Jacobs, a 36-year-old single mother from Kansas City, Missouri, love their guns.

“OK, what guns do you have? What’s your favorite?” Smart asked Jacobs, leaning forward in his seat.

“Well, I never tell my secrets,” Jacobs replied. “But my two favorite firearms are going to be the Mossberg 590 Shockwaves, 12 gauge or 14, and then I love my P365 SAS 9 mm.”

Smart has been with the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, a gun-rights lobbying group of older, conservative white men, for 30 years. Jacobs, a Black woman, attended one of the group’s meetings last summer and a few months later became a card-carrying member.

Both Jacobs and Smart support lenient gun laws. They say laws don’t matter to criminals and the gun is nothing more than a neutral tool when it’s in the hands of someone trained in firearms skill and safety. Neither of them wants to see more restrictions. They don’t believe limited access to guns would have made a difference in Kansas City’srecord number of homicides in 2023, even though they acknowledge the vast majority were committed with a firearm.

But this year, the two of them will work together in Jefferson City to try to persuade lawmakers there is more to addressing violence than arguing about guns.

An older white man in a brown cap and beard is talking to a Black woman wearing glasses and a T-shirt with a red gun applique.
Carlos Moreno
Smart and Jacob have different ideas about the causes of violence. He believes it is the breakdown of the family. She points out racism and discrimination have eroded the Black family for decades and we need other solutions.

Two perspectives

Smart and Jacobs come from different backgrounds, and they don’t see eye to eye on why gun violence is so high.

Smart is a gadget guy. He fixes sewing machines. He builds harps. “I have 10 (harps) in my living room right now,” he said. “I can’t get rid of them.”

As for guns, he’s interested in their ergonomics. He loves to take them apart to clean them and see how they work. He’s fascinated by the history of firearms. He’s not a hunter but will go to the shooting range for fun.

He describes himself as a single-issue voter, an independent who’ll never support a candidate who doesn’t embrace Second Amendment rights.

“I am convinced the real problem (of violence ) is in our homes and our families, that’s where our strengths lie,” Smart said. “Our family is the strength of our species and I think that has broken down over the years.”

Jacobs grew up in what she describes as a “quiet corner” of Kansas City, Kansas. She’d been exposed to guns growing up but didn’t begin training in firearms until she moved to Raymore, Missouri, where she felt uncomfortable because of racial prejudice.

She counters Smart’s argument about the breakdown of families by citing history.

“Family has been broken down in the Black community systemically,” she said. “So, we can’t get to the American dream, or the idea of what family looks like, because of systemic issues for the Black community.”

Jacobs recently left Raymore and moved to Kansas City, Missouri, as she felt racial tension and threats of violence escalate during the COVID pandemic and in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. Violence, she says, is directly tied to poverty.

“We have a lack of resources. We have a lack of education," she said. "We have a lack of social services throughout the urban core where most gun violence takes place and once we supplement some of those things we will see a decrease in the gun violence.”

“OK, send daggers over to me,” Smart replied. “I think I’m going to deserve them.”

He said a lot of government and social programs have failed over the years. “The only way to address violence is for the community to trust the police, the police to trust the community and for both of them to come together to hit criminals from every direction.”

Three people stand together , a woman and two men. The woman, who is Black in an orange dress, is holding her phone, The two men are older white men, one in overalls and one in a checked shirt with suspenders.
Laura Ziegler
KCUR 89.3
LaTasha Jacob first met members of the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance at a KCUR listening session over the summer, and became interested in getting involved with the organization.

Coming together

Relationships between police and her community have not always been productive, Jacobs pointed out. Elected officials have not always been responsive. That’s why she decided to become more politically engaged.

The trips she plans to make to Jefferson City this year will be Jacobs' first foray into lobbying, and she knows she might spend more time listening in on committee meetings and watching while Smart and his fellow gun rights advocates meet legislators behind closed doors. He made a point to say he’ll give her tips on how to navigate the halls of the legislature, schmooze staffers and frame arguments to those with opposing views.

“I’m looking forward to taking her around, knocking on doors, and then just standing back and watching her do her thing!” Smart said.

Jacobs recently took a job as executive director of Pathway Financial Education, a nonprofit financial literacy training program of Overland Park-based wealth management firm, Creative Planning. She said what she’s learning will inform her advocacy.

Missouri has invested in jobs programs and workforce development. But Jacobs has learned that simply having a job isn’t enough. Employees also need training in how to manage their finances: when to pay off debt, when to invest, how to grow wealth.

As a single mother of two teenagers, she knows the strain of balancing work and child rearing. The state recently expanded funding for child care and added more than $150 million for early childhood programs in Missouri, but advocates say the additions don’t begin to address the education needs for young children in the state.

Rep. Ashley Aune, a Democrat from Platte County, Missouri, says the current political climate makes it difficult to balance the budget agenda between progressive social programs and the priorities of the conservative majority.

“We talk about the state budget as a ‘moral document,’" said Aune. “We talk about investing in Missourians, increasing pay for state workers and teachers, how after school programs reduce kids’ predisposition to get into drugs and violence, but there is no incentive at the state for Democrats and Republicans to work together.”

Man in plaid flannel shirt, gray beard, glasses and cap faces woman in foreground.
Carlos Moreno
KCUR 89.3
Carl Smart says La Tasha Jacob's agenda is broader than his, but he's willing to help her access legislators and persuade them violent communities need social and economic support.

Smart, with the Western Missouri Shooters Alliance, said this kind of political divisiveness is the enemy of people who are interested in reducing violence. He said the conversation always is reduced to either removing the guns or supporting communities. Neither offer a solution.

“We want to secure our rights and we want the horrific violence to stop,” he said. “We can’t arrest our way out of this. We’re going to have to talk to each other.”

Jacobs became certified by the United States Conceal Carry Association, which trained her not only in how to use a gun, but how to deescalate a situation so she doesn’t have to. She said her close friends are “not gun people,” and don’t understand her enthusiasm for firearms and the Second Amendment.

“Removing guns has been the go-to argument to reducing violence for decades,” she said. “Nothing’s changed. In fact, the violence has gotten worse. I’m interested in working toward some alternative solutions,” she said, “and happy to have Carl by my side.”

I partner with communities to uncover the ignored or misrepresented stories by listening and letting communities help identify and shape a narrative. My work brings new voices, sounds, and an authentic sense of place to our coverage of the Kansas City region. My goal is to tell stories on the radio, online, on social media and through face to face conversations that enhance civic dialogue and provide solutions.
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