NOTE: Last night Napa saw the first of several area gun violence prevention forums, headed by Congressman Mike Thompson. We're reprinting here the report from Napa Valley Patch on that meeting.
The next forum is tomorrow, Thursday Jan. 10, from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting room, 575 Administration Drive, Santa Rosa.
Mental health, education, stricter background checks and violent video games were the hot topics for about 200 emotionally charged people who showed up to voice their opinions at a public forum on gun violence prevention on Tuesday night.
The town hall-style meeting, overseen by U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson and moderated by Napa Mayor Jill Techel, drew a packed crowd to Napa City Hall, with people lining the walls and filling the lobby where folding chairs were brought in to accommodate the crowd.
"800 gun deaths since Newtown"
The horrific Dec. 22, 2012 shooting at a Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults has sparked an outcry for gun violence prevention across the country.
“Since the Newtown (Conn.) shooting 800 people have been killed by guns,” Thompson said. “It’s an extremely complicated issue.”
After brief introductions, a public comment period saw 65 people take the microphone in turn. Some offered their suggested solutions to the rising gun violence and others were there to make sure their Second Amendment rights were protected.
“Taking away our guns is not the answer,” said Pam Silleman.
“Pam, no one is going to take away your guns," Thompson responded as some in the audience jeered or muttered obscenities under their breath.
"The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled people have the right to own firearms,” Thompson said. But, he added more than once during the evening, the law of the land also pemits gun ownership to be regulated.
Ed Estin said “Taking guns away is not the issue here. Do you think legalizing assault weapons is the answer? Hell no. You think I would feel more safe knowing people in this room were armed? Hell no.”
License, insure gun owners like car drivers?
While many challenged Thompson about his promise to preserve the Second Amendment, others offered solutions to decrease the senseless firearm killings.
Linda Georgette suggested gun ownership be regulated the way driving is: “Make people get their gun licenses periodically renewed like they do with drivers licenses,” she said.
Liz Thompson suggested gun owners be required to take out insurance on their guns, “just like car insurance. And gun dealers need to be more responsible. We need to increase surveillance over the amount of ammo sold.”
"I could vomit"
Another speaker, who didn’t give his name, said the answer was to have armed guards in every school.
“We have them in banks to protect our money. Why not in schools to protect our children?”, he said. “I watched the Newtown shootings coverage on TV, and saw police, SWAT teams all arrived too late to save those kids.”
But American Canyon city council member Joan Bennett vigorously opposed that view.
"When I hear the leadership of the NRA say we need more guns in the schools, I could vomit," Bennett said, drawing explosive applause and cheers.
Media, mental health system blamed
Mental health issues predominated in the public comments: Many speakers said they wanted the government to focus on how mentally disturbed people get their hands on assault weapons.
One man wanted a “mental health watch list. Most of these mass murderers have had mental health issues,” he said.
Jay Hansen accused the mental health system of “letting these people down. Instead of restricting gun (ownership) laws, why don’t you spend that time and money dealing with the mental health issues?”
Another man urged Thompson to look into how people who commit massive acts of gun violence get access to firearms, “many of whom have mental problems.
"I own guns and have to fill out a lengthy form to buy a gun. I have to register my guns. How are these crazy people getting their hands on an arsenal of firearms? There must be a tighter rein on these people.”
Marjorie Moeller of demanded the media take a more responsible role in gun violence.
“We are over saturated with the continual coverage of these horrific murders, suicides and deaths. It has the copy-cat effect. We need to hold the media accountable.”
Jordan Jenks also questioned the media’s responsibility.
“I grew up with guns, and I play video games. But it makes no sense to me to censor a woman’s naked bosom, but (allow) a man’s head exploding,” he said. “The media glorifies violence.”
Other speakers rallied for education on gun safety and the use of firearms. A few spoke of restoring government funding for gun safety education.
Most firearms owners said they don’t have a problem with background checks. When Thompson asked a show of hands from the audience of those who had a problem, only a smattering of hands went up.
"Armed and Prohibited"
In 2006, the State Department of Justice introduced the Armed and Prohibited statute, which put together a list of people who legally bought guns and then became ineligible to posses a firearm.
There are 19,000 people on the list who are associated with 39,000 firearms, DOF Special Agent John Marsh told the crowd.
The statute provides a cross reference for those buying guns who have become felons, suffering from mental disorders or have domestic violence restraining orders against them.
“We have 33 agents working the statute statewide," he said.
Thompson heads the Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in Washington D.C. He is conducting public forums nationwide, gathering feedback for the committee.
Tuesday's forum was cablecast live by Napa Valley TV, which is planning to show it again soon.
Did you attend the forum? Do you feel that all voices were heard? Tell us in the comments.