A coalition of health care and religious groups is asking Gov. Sam Brownback to convene a conference on gun violence.
“In the immediate aftermath of the tragic attack at Excel Industries in Hesston, you declined questions about gun policy issues because you understandably felt the timing was not appropriate,” reads the first sentence of the request submitted earlier this week. “We the undersigned inferred that you do believe, however, a time and place for such a conversation exists. We think that time should be soon.”
The Feb. 25 shooting in Hesston left four people dead, including the shooter, who worked at Excel.
Loren Stanton, lead member of the Northeast Kansas Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the coalition asked Brownback to convene the meeting and select the participants to increase the likelihood that key people on all sides of the gun debate would attend.
“If we call a conference, we know that people on the other side aren’t going to come,” Stanton said.
Coalition members aren’t asking for the meeting to advocate for gun control, said Judy Sherry, of Grandparents Against Gun Violence. The objective, she said, is to start a more constructive conversation that could lead to some common ground.
“A conversation by definition needs to be a two-way street, otherwise it’s a lecture,” Sherry said.
Rep. Barbara Bollier, a Mission Hills Republican, said gun violence is an urgent public health issue. She said while mass shootings and increasing murder rates are obvious symptoms, recent increases in the number of accidental shootings and suicides also are a call to action.
“We need to do more,” she said.
Eileen Hawley, Brownback’s spokesperson, said the coalition’s letter was received Thursday. She gave no indication when the governor would respond or what his answer will be.
“The governor is currently focused on working with the Legislature to balance the budget and conclude the session in a timely manner,” Hawley said in an email.
Coalition members said they hope to hear from the governor within a week. If they don’t, Stanton said, the coalition will reluctantly start planning its own conference.
“We really don’t want to have to go there,” he said.
Jim McLean is executive editor of KHI News Service in Topeka, a partner in the Heartland Health Monitor team.