Editorial: Examining gun violence

It’s critical that Lawrence leaders take a hard look at the recent mayhem in our town.

Lawrence suddenly feels less safe, made uneasy by a string of deadly shootings that has left city leaders at a loss.

“I don’t know the solutions,” Mayor Leslie Soden said Sunday, just hours after five people were shot and three of them died in what appears to have been a shootout in downtown Lawrence. “I have to hear the details from the people who know them.”

Sunday’s incident brought to nine the number of people who have been killed in intentional or accidental shootings since June in Douglas County. Just since Sept. 1, six people have died in four incidents:

l A Lenexa man was shot and killed at the Motel 6 in Lawrence on Sept. 2. Three men have been arrested and two charged with murder.

l On Sept. 19, a man was shot and killed at a residence on West 27th Terrace. A suspect has been charged with murder.

l On Sept. 22, a 1-year-old child died in what is being investigated as an accidental shooting at a home on North Michigan Street. Police have released no further details.

l Finally, five people were shot at about 1:40 a.m. Sunday near the intersection of 11th and Massachusetts streets in an incident that police believe started as a physical altercation that escalated. No arrests have been made in the incident.

As Soden mentioned, there are no easy answers to the sudden outbreak of gun violence. The incidents aren’t connected. In Sunday’s shooting as well as the Motel 6 shooting, no one involved was from Lawrence. Still, the shootings are alarming if for no other reason than the sheer number that have occurred in such a short period.

Soden offered a number of thoughts to explore. Would more security cameras in downtown Lawrence help? Are more police officers needed on downtown streets? Should Massachusetts Street be closed to vehicular traffic on Friday and Saturday nights?

One person who will be expected to help answer those questions and others is Gregory Burns Jr., whose first day on the job as Lawrence’s new police chief was Monday.

Burns comes to Lawrence after having served as assistant police chief in Louisville, Ky. His experience in a larger metro market with more violent crime presumably is valuable in addressing the sudden rash of shootings. But expectations also should be tempered by Burns’ time in the position. Not only is he new to Lawrence, but this is Burns’ first police chief role.

Still, Burns, Soden and other city leaders and officials should make it a priority to better understand the underlying factors that have led to such an outbreak of gun violence. At this point, addressing those issues is a matter of life and death.