A collection of Santa Barbara dignitaries weighed in on mental-health issues, recent gun-control legislation, and gun buybacks on Thursday night for a town-hall forum sponsored by the Coalition Against Gun Violence (CAGV).
Mayor Helene Schneider, State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, District Attorney Joyce Dudley, Superintendent Dave Cash, Councilmember Cathy Murillo, SBSO Sergeant Mark Williams, SBPD Sergeant Riley Harwood, and several other panelists presented facts and updates about how to keep homes, streets, and schools safe.
Jackson kicked off the event with an update from Sacramento: Governor Jerry Brown recently signed 13 gun-control bills and vetoed five. Brown — a gun owner himself — axed a bill that would have prohibited some DUI offenders from purchasing a gun for 10 years. Current law bans felons — which includes three DUI or “wet reckless” convictions within a 10-year period — from purchasing or possessing a firearm.
Jackson also said the 1999 Columbine High School massacre occurred near the beginning of her tenure. California took immediate steps to end gun shows, change legal language to limit access to firearms, and ensure guns are locked when they’re in homes with kids. “This is common sense to me,” she said, “but that is apparently another person’s violation of their fundamental freedoms. Somewhere in between we have to come up with an answer to this problem.”
“Make no mistake; the NRA is the gun lobby,” she added. “Whenever there is a shooting, the sale of firearms goes up geometrically.” As a founding member of Coalition Against Gun Violence, Jackson explained the organization used to be called Women Against Gun Violence. “We recognized this really isn’t just women against gun violence; it’s sane people against gun violence. But we couldn’t say sane people against gun violence … because then, I guess, insane people would be for gun violence,” Jackson said, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd.
Schneider spoke about websites like armslist.com, a firearms marketplace that saw the number of ads bought for the site increase from 12,000 to 83,000 in roughly two and a half years.
Toni Wellen, chair of CAGV, said 100,000 people are shot each year, and 30,000 people die. “That is a public-health epidemic,” she said. If that many people died from the flu, she said, people would be on high alert. She added that 35 percent of families have guns, and 25 percent of those families with children do not properly lock their firearms. Wellen noted another major problem has to do with the country’s lack of resources to aid the mentally ill but that Obamacare should better help patients with mental-health issues.
Elsa Granados, a representative from Santa Barbara Rape Crisis Center, gave her two cents about the nexus of sexual violence and weapons. She explained that although the center encourages women to fight off predators, they do not believe giving women firearms would necessarily increase their safety. For instance, Granados explained, 85 percent of sexual assaults occur between people who know each other, and studies indicates a person is much less likely to use a firearm against someone he or she knows.
Several panelists mentioned the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting as a reminder to continue enacting preventative measures against gun violence.
Cash spoke about the implementation of restorative justice, which abandons age-old discipline models like suspension and detention and creates a new consequence model that emphasizes personal responsibility and seeks to strengthen relationships between students and faculty. Old punishment methods often took kids out of class, which, Cash explained, is counterintuitive to the overall goal of education. Cash also cited partnerships with the police department and the Sheriff’s Office as essential in keeping streets and schools safe.
Murillo spoke about a program titled Las Abuelas, which pairs grandmothers with teenagers to strengthen youth’s confidence, and the making of a program called “Neighbor Watch,” which will encourage relationships between neighbors to make communities safer.
Harwood shared that gun incidents have generally decreased in the past few years. In 2009, there were 56 gun incidents in Santa Barbara; 49 incidents in 2010; 29 incidents in 2011; 38 incidents in 2012; and 29 incidents up until October 1 of this year.
Dos Pueblos High School junior Ethan Brier — a member of the Santa Barbara Youth Council — talked a bit about efforts at the teenage level, including ones to make the word “retard” unacceptable language to describe the mentally ill, and others to counteract bullying in schools and on the Internet.
Dudley spoke about recent preventative measures her office has taken to return truants back to school in the county. Research indicates reducing truancy diminishes high school dropouts and decreases crime in the long run. She also said she’s currently prosecuting about 20 cases in which convicted felons — or others prohibited from buying a gun — illegally tried to purchase a firearm.
Wellen also suggested the idea of having a gun “buyback” event where gun owners could exchange their shotgun or rifle for a cash “reward.” Harwood pointed out there are “pros and cons” of such an event and highlighted raising sufficient funds, cost of enforcement to staff the event, and storing collected guns as obstacles.
Several other counties do hold these events, Wellen said in response, and getting rid of even a small number of guns would make the event worthwhile. An anonymous couple has donated $1,000 to a start a gun “buyback” fund, she said.
The night concluded with a bit of inspiration about personal safety from Dudley, who told the crowd, “Many of us may not have guns, but we have guts. … Trust your gut.”