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After Saint Francis mass shooting, Tulsa County's lone Democratic commissioner calls for gun reform

Chris Polansky / KWGS News
Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith addresses reporters at Tulsa Police headquarters in this July 30, 2020, file photo.

Following Wednesday's mass shooting at a medical building on the Saint Francis campus in Tulsa that left five people dead, Public Radio Tulsa's Chris Polansky spoke with Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith about her reaction and policy proposals.

COMMISSIONER KAREN KEITH: Chris, it was just heartbreaking to have this happening in our community. It's such a special place for us. I mean, this is where people go for healing and it just shouldn't be happening like this.

PUBLIC RADIO TULSA: Can you talk a little bit more about what makes Saint Francis a special place for our city and our region?

KEITH: Saint Francis is our pink hospital on the hill. I think it's just always been a beacon for where people can go for healing. And this is one of their medical buildings which is off to the side, the Natalie Warren building. And, you know, it was an orthopedic floor. I see on Facebook there were people who knew the doctor and were grateful for all his help. We don't know yet what happened, but, you know, the people who work at Saint Francis and work in the medical building -- these are people who work to help heal us. And to have them suffer the trauma and then the actual loss of life is just unconscionable.

PRT: In the wake of these shootings, we often hear from some officials — and the mayor said this yesterday — that it's too soon to talk about what steps should be taken to make sure they don't happen again. What do you say to those folks?

KEITH: I say we have to talk about it. I am so tired of people saying "Not now, not now." But when? When is now. We have to address these issues and we have to do it nationally, because our borders are so fluid it's got to be a national policy. We can look at countries around the world and see what they have done for gun control. I mean, you can look the numbers up -- Japan, New Zealand, Canada, Portugal, Spain. Do the research, see what they've done. And then let's follow some similar policy. It's not rocket science. And God has given us the intelligence to deal with this, and the idea that we just keep saying, "Oh, you know, let's just think about this, let's --" We have to address it. We've got to take this head-on. And it can't just be the elected officials, the public has to rise up and say enough is enough, let's solve this issue. And I know our state, we love our guns here, and people enjoy, you know, target practice, and we have a lot of hunters. But the idea that these semi-automatic weapons are floating around our community, and automatic weapons -- it's just something we have to address.

PRT: I don't have to tell you about the politics here in Oklahoma. Are you at all hopeful anything will change?

KEITH: This is really close to home. I think everybody has to rethink their position on this. And I'm so tired of seeing these political cards where everybody's toting a gun, and political ads. Like, this is defining who we are? I don't think so. And I really -- we have a very compassionate federal delegation. I think they will begin to rethink this issue. This is as close to home as you can get.

PRT: As a county commissioner, will you be reaching out to have these conversations with our federal delegation and more local leaders, like Mayor Bynum?

KEITH: Yes, I will. I can promise you that.

PRT: What will you be saying? Anything different than what you've just said here?

KEITH: No. I mean, I will tell you, I'm still undone by what happened in Uvalde. We should have addressed this long ago when we had kindergarteners getting mowed down, and I couldn't fathom then that we wouldn't do something. I guess that's why my sensibility is so heightened right now. But the Uvalde thing, I'm still very upset about that, and then to have this happen at our doorstep? It's going to keep happening. That is the reality, unless we step up. It will keep happening. I just want people to really do some research. Look at what other countries have done and lets emulate some of that. This is not rocket science. We can figure this out. This does not need to continue happening. And you know, the idea that you're just going to arm your teachers, you're going to "harden" our schools so they look like jails? And it doesn't do anything to help with open-air festivals and all the other places where these mass shootings are happening. It really does have to be a national policy. I get that we're in election season. Probably nothing's going to happen 'til we get past this, which is very disappointing. But the electorate has to be the ones saying, "Oh no, we're done. We are done. We've got to figure something out."

PRT: What does that rising up look like for you? Are you talking about flooding the phone lines, mass demonstrations, both, neither?

KEITH: Flooding the phone lines -- any and all of the above. Change is always kind of slow. It's slow to move a big ship like we have here. But I can't imagine that peoples' hearts aren't aching watching all of this. And the question is, who's next? Because, what, there's been 233 mass shootings so far this year? So who's next? Who's next?

PRT: We've been speaking with Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith. Thank you, commissioner.

KEITH: Yep, Chris, thanks.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.