Mike Poage, along with Michelle Reed, is co-chairperson of the Wichita Coalition Against Gun Violence. Mike is a retired United Church of Christ pastor who now attends Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church in Wichita. Michelle attends a United Methodist Church. Other active Mennonite leaders in the Coalition include Jerry Truex and Pat Cameron of the Church of the Servant, and Barbara Gingrich and Lois Harder of Lorraine Avenue. The Coalition is an ecumenical group including Methodists and Quakers as well.
Kansas Mennonites for decades have led in campaigns against the death penalty. But they have had little to say about gun violence. The Western District Conference has passed four resolutions on capital punishment but has no official statements against gun violence. The silence is puzzling. From 2002 to 2011, 2923 people were killed with guns in Kansas. Perhaps ending the death penalty is a realistic goal, while ending gun violence seems hopeless.
The Kansas legislature is dominated by religious-right politicians who obey the wishes of the National Rifle Association. They have turned the state into one of the top ten in the nation in removing limits on gun ownership and use. In Kansas no local or county jurisdiction can place limits on guns not approved at the state level. On April 7, 2015, Governor Sam Brownback signed into law a “permitless carry law” (SB# 45) that gave Kansans freedom to carry concealed firearms without having to acquire a concealed carry handgun license. It was already legal to carry a firearm openly in Kansas.
In 2014, prior to SB# 45, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office issued 20,660 concealed-carry handgun licenses. During the same period, 82 initial applications were denied, 12 renewal applications were denied, 87 concealed-carry licenses were suspended and 52 licences were revoked. Why? Because applicants had criminal convictions and other violent actions on their records. Today applications are not denied because applications are not required.
The two Mennonites in the legislature were divided over SB# 45. Don Schroeder of Hesston voted against it. Steve Becker of Buhler voted in favor. Becker has said he was not settled on the issue. He was flooded with messages from his pro-gun constituents, and he was not convinced the law would make much of a difference. Supporters of SB# 45 were highly organized and vocal, while some polls said that a majority of the Kansas public opposed the measure.
The Wichita Coalition Against Gun Violence is in the early stages of mobilizing for changes in the law. No member of the Kansas legislature has yet agreed to sponsor alternative legislation. No plans are in the works for committee action. There is no state-wide gun violence coalition such as exists for the death penalty issue.
Mike Poage says the primary goals of the Wichita Coalition are to educate the public and to “push for sane legislation.” They have sponsored public demonstrations to draw attention to, and to mourn, recent multiple deaths due to gun violence. On the Coalition’s agenda is the possibility of putting up a booth at the Wichita gun show in October. Interested persons are welcome to join the next Coalition meeting at 11:00 a.m. September 10, Thursday, at the Mennonite Church of the Servant, 23rd and Woodland. The Coalition’s web site is at <www.wichitacoalitionagainstgunviolence.org> .