Wade Kapszukiewicz is familiar with small-city America.
He's the mayor of Toledo, the Ohio city known for its glass manufacturing, Jeep plant and legacy as wacky "M*A*S*H" character Max Klinger's hometown. Kapszukiewicz has seen other cities in his travels, like most people. On a family road trip as a kid, he compared his hands to Larry Bird's on placemats at the Celtics great's Boston Connection restaurant in Terre Haute. Kapszukiewicz also serves in the U.S. Conference of Mayors, interacting with city leaders from 1,400 American towns with 30,000 or more residents.
Small-city citizens come into his office daily, looking for Kapszukiewicz to do something about their issues, just like hundreds of other mayors across the nation.
Then, seemingly out of the blue last week, Kapszukiewicz (pronounced "Kaps-Sue-Kav-Itch") found himself fielding phone calls from national news organizations. President Donald Trump — addressing the nation Monday on live TV after mass shootings Aug. 3 in El Paso, Texas and Aug. 4 in Dayton, Ohio — mistakenly said, "May God bless the memory of those who perished in Toledo," instead of Dayton.
The news outlets sought a reaction from Kapszukiewicz on the blunder by Trump, who is drawing deserved, intense accusations of instigating the Texas massacre in predominantly Latino El Paso with his repeated, bigoted rhetoric on immigrants to America.
Toledo's mayor bypassed the opportunity to jab Trump. Instead, he accepted the unintended prayers, offered his own for the nation and then focused on the broader issue — the recurrent mass shootings.
It's a real worry in Toledo, just 150 miles north of Dayton, where a gunman killed nine people and injured 27 in less than a minute. The Dayton shooting came 13 hours after another gunman killed 22 people and wounded more than two dozen at a Walmart in El Paso. Those horrific acts were the latest of 251 mass shootings in the United States, with four or more people shot, in the first 216 days of 2019, as recorded by the nonprofit group Gun Violence Archive.
It's a real worry in Toledo because it's a real worry in any American city now, with a nightmarish, endless loop of attacks at places of worship, schools, malls, theaters, businesses, festivals and concerts. Scores of lives end in seconds.
Kapszukiewicz, a 46-year-old Democrat, chose to talk about that scourge, when the calls about Trump's Toledo goof came in.
"I didn't want to [jab Trump], because actually I think he just misspoke," Kapszukiewicz told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday afternoon. "And at any rate, there's something more important here, which is the larger question of the mass shootings in the United States."
The mayor decided to tell the inquiring national reporters about a Toledo initiative that has caught the attention of other mayors and U.S. cities.
Toledo is doing something. That's in contrast to the U.S. Congress, which has done almost nothing to quell the gun atrocities by favoring the NRA's desires and campaign donations over reasonable gun measures supported by most Americans. Congress is preventing solutions, instead of finding them.
"Congress has just proven unable or unwilling to act, so it falls to local leaders to try to make a difference," Kapszukiewicz said.
After another gunman murdered 11 people inside a Pittsburgh synagogue last year, the city of Toledo took a stand. The city announced it would only purchase guns and ammunition for its police department from "responsible manufacturers." That meant, Toledo would consider whether a gun maker sells assault-style weapons to civilians, or does thorough background checks on potential buyers, Kapszukiewicz said.
Toledo spends approximately $150,000 annually on guns, parts and ammo for its police officers. Kapszukiewicz acknowledged that the loss of Toledo's business to a gun manufacturer "is like a speck of sand in the Sahara desert. If it's only Toledo that's doing this, they could easily ignore it," the mayor said Wednesday.
Toledo's idea could spread, though. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which includes Kapszukiewicz, passed a resolution supporting Toledo's initiative, encouraging cities to invest in smart gun technology (embedded devices to prevent misuse and accidents by thieves or youngsters) and use the cities' collective buying power to pressure manufacturers to curtail assault-style weapon sales for non-military purposes and conduct thorough background checks before sales.
If every major Ohio city follows Toledo's lead, those combined annual purchases for police weapons would total around $1 million, Kapszukiewicz said. If America's 1,400 largest cities did the same, "then you're talking about tens of millions of dollars," he added. "And with that sort of volume, I do think there could be free-market pressure in our capitalist system to inspire changes, where maybe laws and ordinances can't."
When the Washington Post asked Kapszukiewicz to pen an op-ed in response to Trump's gaffe, the mayor highlighted Toledo's gun manufacturer policy. He braced himself for the angry phone calls and emails, given that guns are an issue "people are passionate about."
The opposite occurred. His staff told him, "This is unbelievable. We've never seen such a positive response." One supportive respondent said, "Look, I'm a lifelong Republican. I own a gun. I'm a member of the NRA. But enough is enough. This is ridiculous."
Given federal and state elected officials' refusal to act, Americans who want to change this horror should go local and urge their cities to adopt the Toledo policy. Small as that plan may be, "at least it's something, as opposed to nothing," the mayor said. Its appeal represents a demand for remedies.
"I think that really shows the hunger that the American people have for some common-sense solutions," Kapszukiewicz added. "We can achieve a balance between protecting our constitutional rights — which we need to do, and should do — and the rights of our citizens to feel safe when they go to church on Sunday. We can do both."
God bless Toledo.
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.