Op Ed: What to Do About Guns in America
In February the Potrero Hill Democratic Club’s monthly meeting, held at the Potrero Hill Neighborhood House, focused on gun violence in America. Robyn Thomas, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence’s executive director, Bayview Police Station Captain Robert O’Sullivan, and San Francisco Assistant District Attorney (DA) Mike Maffei shared their expertise and engaged in a thoughtful discussion.
The massacre in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th, while horrific and tragic, may well have been the tipping point for addressing gun violence in the United States. Since that day, more than 10 states have introduced gun control legislation. New York State, by passing a bill requiring background checks for ammunition purchases, now has stricter legislation than California. U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein recently introduced federal legislation that would ban assault weapons, and 10 new bills were introduced in the California State Legislature on the day the Club met. More than 92 percent of Americans agree on the need for background checks; this type of legislation has the best chance of being enacted at the federal level.
What can ordinary citizens do? Thomas relayed that during the ten-minute wait before meeting with Senator Feinstein she heard the Senator’s staff field more than a dozen angry calls from gun advocates, and not one call in support. Thomas suggested calling Senator Feinstein’s office — as well as the offices of other lawmakers who have recently proposed gun control legislation — to thank them for their work. “When they do something good, make the call,” said Thomas, who promised to keep the Club apprised of developments.
There are approximately 3,000 gun deaths per year in California. Captain O’Sullivan and Assistant DA Mike Maffei discussed issues closer to home. Seventeen of the 18 homicides in the Bayview District last year involved guns, with an additional 46 non-fatal shootings reported. The DA’s office takes a hard line when prosecuting gun crime, choosing a felony charge over a misdemeanor charge, and mandating jail time, whenever possible.
Eighty percent of criminals get their guns from private sellers without background checks, and most seized firearms in the Bayview District are stolen. An important, practical action citizens can take is to encourage federal and state legislators to continue to stay focused on the gun issue into the future, and to pursue universal background checks in conjunction with federal legislation regarding gun trafficking.
Early intervention can avert future violence. The DA’s office uses Neighborhood Courts with restorative, not punitive, justice to resolve nonviolent crimes, and the Bayview Police Station works with Dr. Nadine Burke at the Center for Youth Wellness to identify and refer youth with post-traumatic stress. Captain O’Sullivan strongly urged people to mentor at-risk youth.
Among Club members’ suggestions: reaching out to different communities on this issue, to show elected officials the diversity of people who want stricter laws. Visatacion Valley resident Marlene Tran proposed creating bilingual petitions aimed at San Francisco’s Chinese-speaking population; Bayview resident Linda Richardson recommended reading the Bayview Station’s newsletter, which can be subscribed to by emailing SFPDBayviewStation@sfgov.org, and visiting www.sfcommitteetoendgunviolence.org to find out about local meetings and actions on the issue; Rick Hauptman mentioned a gathering thanking Nancy Pelosi earlier that day.
The Potrero Hill Democratic Club encourages View readers to help ensure that events like Sandy Hook and Columbine don’t recur, by taking any of the following actions: follow the latest gun legislation on http://smartgunlaws.org; call legislators to thank them specifically for their gun control legislation; and be a mentor and positive role model for an at-risk youth.
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