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KC's Mayor James decries 'slow motion mass murder' in speech to Missouri convention group

U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, left, and Kansas City Mayor Sly James were the keynote speakers to the Missouri delegation at the Democratic National Convention.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, left, and Kansas City Mayor Sly James were the keynote speakers to the Missouri delegation at the Democratic National Convention.

PHILADELPHIA – For Kansas City, Mo.,  Mayor Sly James, gun violence isn’t a philosophical exercise or a buzzword.

The Democratic official told members of the Missouri delegation at the Democratic National Convention that he often goes to crime scenes where a person has used a gun to kill someone. Often, James said he sees people who are “prostrate on the ground because they’re so grief-stricken.”

“And it’s time after time, after time, after time,” James said. “We’re living in slow motion mass murder. Slow motion mass murder in our cities every single day.”

James says he appreciates how Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has been unafraid to call for gun background checks or firearm restrictions. But he said he’s dismayed that Missouri’s political leaders don’t share that view — and instead go out of their way to showcase their opposition to gun control.

“Now you don’t have to change or challenge the Second Amendment to use common sense,” James said. “There is no hunting that goes on on Prospect Avenue in Kansas City, Mo. The only thing that’s hunted in a city with a rifle is another person.

“And too often, the people that are getting shot and killed look like me,” said James, who is African-American. “And too often, the people doing the shooting and killing look like me. And frankly, I think that’s one of the reasons that there’s not a bit more movement, to be honest with you.”

That last line prompted most of the Democratic delegation to stand up and applaud James.

As a Marine, James said he fired “more weapons than he ever cared to.” He said he hadn’t touched a gun before he joined the military and hasn’t used one since, adding, “I thought it was important for me to know, because there was a chance that I was going to Vietnam and I wanted to live.”

“I don’t care if people want to have guns to hunt,” James said. “I don’t care if they want to skeet shoot, target shoot, do anything recreational with guns. But there’s absolutely no reason for an AR-15 to be on the streets on the Kansas City, Mo. None. Absolutely none.”

An old divide

It’s clearly going to take more than strong words to bring more restrictive guns laws to Missouri. 

Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently won a second term in office. He's barred from running again for mayor in 2019.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Kansas City Mayor Sly James recently won a second term in office. He's barred from running again for mayor in 2019.

For one thing, Republicans who oppose gun control dominate both chambers of the Missouri General Assembly. And all four GOP gubernatorial candidates have touted their commitment to gun rights. They’ve expressed support for a vetoed bill that would allow people to conceal and carry a gun without a permit.

That posture isn’t limited to Missouri Republicans: Over recent election cycles, Democratic state Senate candidates in out-state Missouri often touted their votes that loosened gun restrictions.

While he’s expressed grave concerns about gun violence in urban areas, likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee Chris Koster recently received an "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. It’s not out of the question that he could get the organization’s endorsement if one of the two Republican candidates without a voting record snags the nomination. (That happened in 2012.)

Donna Dees-Thomases was on hand to watch James’ speech. She helped found the Million Mom March in Washington D.C., a rally in 2000, that called for more restrictive gun laws.

Dees-Thomases says when politicians like James make strong appeals for things like expanded background checks, they can change people’s minds.

“Responsible gun owners and hunters get it,” Dees-Thomases said. “They understand that needs to be the law for everyone. It doesn’t impact anybody’s right to have a gun, unless they are a felon, a convicted domestic abuser or dangerously mentally ill. And that is the policy goal that people are talking about. And when they talk about it one-on-one or going to town halls, people completely understand.”

While noting that he supports Koster’s gubernatorial bid, James said he disagrees with his opposition to gun control laws. He said Koster “recognizes the political climate in the state of Missouri.”

James did add that proponents of tighter gun laws should be more aggressive on the political front. That could include raising money and campaigning against legislators who oppose restrictions.

“I want to stop people who should not have guns from having those guns,” James said. “It’s time for us to start making a statement. It seems that the only thing that legislators absolutely fear sometimes is somebody running against them and the lack of money. So I’d say let’s raise some money, let’s target some key people who are the worst actors on the issue, and find a way to threaten them with losing their office or take them out of office.”

Franken stumps for Clinton

The other speaker at Wednesday’s breakfast was U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who provided a strong critique of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.  

U.S. Sen. Al Franken speaks to Missouri Democrats on Wednesday.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
U.S. Sen. Al Franken speaks to Missouri Democrats on Wednesday.

“I spoke yesterday on my expertise about right-wing megalomaniacs,” Franken said. “And I started with someone from your state, Rush Limbaugh. And I’ve identified another one. This guy is a borderline personality, unless he’s on the other side of the border. This guy’s a narcissist. This guy sees things only from a very, very narrow, and I think sick, point of view.”

Before he won a very close election in 2008, Franken gained notoriety as a comedian on Saturday Night Live. But Franken said there was little to laugh about Trump’s candidacy, adding that he doesn’t think the billionaire businessman understands what the presidency is all about.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken spoke to the Missouri delegation on Wednesday. He was introduced by U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who provided a tribute to Kansas City political activist Dutch Newman. Newman passed away this week at the age of 95.

“The president last night said ‘this is the fun part giving the speeches,’” said Franken, referring to former President Bill Clinton. “The hard part is making change. That’s the hard part. Their guy is a joke. And we have the real deal.”

Franken said he’s made a special effort to try to get Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander elected to the U.S. Senate. (Kanderis not attending the convention.) He also wanted Democratic activists to work hard to turn Missouri blue for the first time since 1996.

“This is an absolutely crucial, essential election,” Franken said. “It’s a lift. But I want Missouri to get us Hillary. And I certainly want Missouri to get us Jason Kander.”  

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.