In 2018, thousands of people, young and old, gathered in Kansas City, Missouri’s Theis Park for a protest against gun violence.
Four years later, many of those protesters gathered again — for the same cause.
March For Our Lives, both an organization and a physical march, was organized in 2018 by survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead.
The May 24 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, spurred this recent round of protests. An AR-15-style rifle was used by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos to kill 19 children, mostly nine or ten-years old, and two teachers.
Organizer Rachel Gonzalez was involved in the 2018 March For Our Lives KC, and organized the recent march on June 11 in Gillham Park. In a message to the Kansan, she said she protested again because she’s hopeful that change can happen when people come together.
“One thing that I’ve noticed [during this year’s protest] is the increased interest from people who work in education,” Gonzalez said. “Teachers in particular seemed very eager to be involved. We had some people show up with signs that say things such as, ‘I’m a teacher, not a SWAT team.’”
She works as the national organizing manager for Brady: United Against Gun Violence, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control.
“I’m inspired by the survivors I get the honor of working with everyday. Seeing victims of gun violence work to make sure it does not harm another family gives me even more appreciation for the movement,” Gonzalez said.
Jae Moyer spoke to the few hundred protesters in Gillham Park about their experience in the LGBTQ community, and the elevated risk of gun violence that community faces. LGBTQ people in the U.S. are more than two times as likely to be victims of gun violence compared to cisgender or straight people.
Moyer has been an activist for a while — they started as a senior in high school, protesting outside of the Kansas Statehouse against anti-LGBTQ legislation. In 2018 during the first March For Our Lives, Moyer was attending college in New York City and volunteered in the rally there.
After graduating, Moyer ran for the Johnson County Community College Board of Trustees, and was elected president of the Kansas Democratic LGBT Caucus.
“In the past few years since I graduated high school, I’ve been educating myself on the policies and the laws that are in place, especially regarding the LGBTQ+ community,” Moyer said. “That’s where my passion comes from; I see bad policy and I want to see it changed or fixed.”
In terms of specific gun policy Moyer would like to see implemented, checkpoints in the process of buying a gun are at the top of the list.
“Why can’t we pass red flag laws? Why can’t we put restrictions on how easy it is to get a gun? Why can’t we put penalties on salespeople who sell guns to people who use them against other people?” Moyer said.
Moyer said elected officials need to take action, but they don’t want to take away all guns.
“We don’t need to take everyone’s guns away,” Moyer said. “They are a huge part of our culture, and I think that would bring up more problems. I do think that we need to restrict them, we need to make it harder for people to get them, and people need to prove that they’re responsible enough to own them.”
Gonzalez added waiting periods, a ban on ghost guns, and a raise to the legal age to buy a gun to the list of policy changes she wants to see.
Shortly after the shooting in Uvalde, a bipartisan deal on gun policy was introduced by a group of senators, giving hope to some. The bill cleared an initial vote Tuesday night, allowing debate to continue on the Senate floor. Senators hope the bill, which would enhance background checks and help states put red flag laws into place, passes by Saturday.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas spoke at this year’s March For Our Lives, and called for policy changes in Kansas and Missouri, as well as in the country.
“The reason we have so many gun homicides in our city, gun shootings in our city and gun massacres in our country is because it’s too damn easy to get guns,” Lucas said.
Gonzalez remains hopeful that change will come, and this hope is bolstered by witnessing the Kansas City community come together, yet again, on June 11.
“At the end of the day, even if nothing changes, I get a lot of comfort from the idea of knowing I did everything I could,” Gonzalez said. “I’m going to keep working — lives depend on it.”