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Perspective | The U.S. has a gun problem, and Kansas City’s NFL team could help

Perspective | The U.S. has a gun problem, and Kansas City’s NFL team could help

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Mark Sharp wasn’t certain what he was seeing on a television Wednesday inside Kansas City’s Union Station where he had been bused with other Missouri state legislators for the city’s Super Bowl parade.

“I couldn’t figure out why the hell everybody was running back inside [Union Station],” Sharp, a Democrat in his second term representing Missouri’s Jackson County, told me Thursday.

It wasn’t until he got home hours later that he learned the mad scramble resulted from a shooting that left a local DJ dead and 22 people, at least half children, injured among an estimated million people who turned out for the Super Bowl party. Police said they detained two juveniles and recovered several firearms.

“I’m figuring it’s just one dummy out there shooting his gun in the air,” Sharp said.

Because that’s what so many Kansas Citians and Missourians do, if you can believe it, when celebrating their NFL team’s championships. Or the new year. Or the Fourth of July. It’s known around there as celebratory gunfire. It killed an 11-year-old girl, Blair Shanahan Lane, on the Fourth of July in 2011. It prompted Sharp to draft a bill known as Blair’s Law to crack down on the increasingly dangerous gunplay. To be sure, in the NFL playoff season just concluded, the Kansas City Beacon reported that the Kansas City Police Department’s ShotSpotter technology recorded 130 rounds after the city’s football team won the AFC championship to advance to the Super Bowl. A year earlier on the same weekend, the system counted 102 shots.

But Sharp has failed to get the governor or fellow elected officials to make it law.

More disheartening, he said, he has failed to get the back-to-back Super Bowl champions to back his cause.

“I live in South Kansas City, where it happens a lot,” Sharp said. “So I did reach out to the Chiefs’ [lobbyist] Rich AuBuchon. He said he would take that message up to the higher ups. And my message was basically, could somebody with the Chiefs’ staff, or maybe the Chiefs’ social media platform, just [say] two words, ‘Celebrate safely.’ That’s it: ‘Celebrate safely.’ I didn’t think that was a huge ask.

“We give the Chiefs whatever they ask for,” Sharp lamented. “So I was a little taken aback that I couldn’t even get a response back.”

I haven’t heard back from the franchise about Sharp’s plea, either.

The tragedy that unfolded Valentine’s Day in the heart of Kansas City was not connected to the team beyond it being the center of that day’s attention. But the Kansas City team, as Sharp’s unanswered entreaty suggests, also isn’t absolved from not being part of the solution to the scourge of gun violence in its community and this country. And I would’ve thought the Kansas City franchise would be particularly sensitive to the problem. After all, one year after Blair was killed, Kansas City linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend and then drove to Arrowhead Stadium and killed himself in front of his coach and general manager.

But the only protest heard from the team came from a couple of players. Defensive lineman Charles Omenihu wrote in part: “A time of celebration ends in tragedy. When are we going to fix these gun laws? How many more people have to die to say enough is enough? It’s too easy for the wrong people to obtain guns in America and that’s a FACT.” He was joined by safety Justin Reid on the X platform, who wrote in part: “We cannot ourselves … become numb and chalk it up to ‘just another shooting in America’ and reduce people in statistics and then move on tmrw. This is a SERIOUS PROBLEM!! I pray our leaders enact real solutions so our kids’ kids won’t know this violence.”

The rest of their teammates who took to social media offered only prayers despite being in a state with gun laws stronger than only two other states in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Missouri allows open carry and doesn’t require a license to carry a firearm. Kansas City allows open carry with a permit. Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said at the scene Wednesday that the “tragedy occurred even in the presence of uniformed law enforcement officers.” But when someone can carry a weapon openly as if it’s Dodge City of the Wild, Wild West, police presence doesn’t seem like an adequate deterrence.

What Kansas City’s football team should be doing at the least is joining a movement such as the one in the nation’s capital in June, Gun Violence Awareness Month, when the pro teams joined to fund gun violence prevention groups and sensitize more people to gun-related killings that may be interpreted as only affecting marginalized communities of color.

“There are some guys on the Chiefs team that if they say anything, it’s like scripture, right?” said Sharp, a former minor league baseball player. “If Patty Ice [quarterback Patrick Mahomes] gets out there and says something, if [Travis] Kelce gets out there and says something, if [Coach] Andy Reid gets out there and says something, people will listen. People will write. Will everybody listen? No, but I mean, we can’t act like there’s not an issue there, and that’s what we’ve been doing.”

Mahomes did chime in more Friday. He announced on social media that he and his wife were leading a club effort to help people most affected by gun violence.

It is too little, too late, of course, for what happened Wednesday or even last year.

As Sharp lamented, in 2023, Kansas City set a record for homicides, most by guns. And there are new gun law proposals in Missouri, such as one to exempt ammunition sales from sales tax. That’s what should be included in Mahomes’s reaction, promoting legislation to make the city safer rather than just cleaning up the aftermath of lax gun laws.

“I mean, these are their fans,” Sharp said of the city’s beloved football team. “K.C. is getting ready to host six World Cup games in 2026. What happens? What happens if this happens then? The Chiefs have to get out in front of this a little bit. Sending out a press [release] and sending out a statement after it’s already happened just doesn’t do anything.”

The team’s newest chance is to support the Missouri Senate bill mimicking Blair’s Law. Then it should join legislators such as Sharp on the Missouri House Committee on Crime Prevention and Public Safety working to get guns in the city and state off the streets.

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