By Aaron Blevins, 8/16/2012
Recent shootings prompt Feuer to hold gun violence town hall
Due to recent shootings in Colorado, Wisconsin and now Texas, Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) held a town hall meeting regarding gun violence on Tuesday at LACMA West.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, LAPD assistant chief Michel Moore and Los Angeles City Councilmen Paul Koretz, 5th District, and Tom LaBonge, 4th District, were among the speakers. The event drew a large crowd from both sides of the issue, including a victim of the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.
Feuer opened by saying that California’s rate of gun-related deaths is lower than the rest of the nation, especially those states with permissive gun laws. He has drafted a bill that requests that the federal government reinstate the country’s assault weapons ban. California passed an assault weapons ban in 1989.
“We have some of the toughest laws in the nation,” Feuer said. “Those laws … have been effective.”
Baca said the country has had a mass infiltration of excess military equipment from Russia and China in recent years. He said part of the issue is the commercialization of military weapons.
“Do we need military weapons to protect ourselves in this country?” Baca asked rhetorically.
He said another issue is the stockpiling of weapons and ammunition by residents, some of whom have up to 50 such military-style weapons. Baca asked if that, too, was necessary for a resident to defend him or herself.
“You’d have to hire people to fire them all to keep you safe,” he said. “If you’re going to hunt, do you need to fire hundreds of rounds into the side of an elk or deer?”
Feuer said there is pending legislation in the Assembly that would require gun stores to notify authorities when someone purchases more than 1,000 rounds in a five-day period.
“The battle lines are drawn on that issue right now,” he said.
Moore said 187 homicides have occurred in Los Angeles so far this year, and the vast majority was due to gun violence. He said the sole purpose of assault weapons is to kill and maim human beings.
“They are aimed not only at our fellow officers, but our fellow Americans as well,” Moore added.
Koretz referred to several famous and historic figures that have died prematurely due to gun violence. He said both of his parents have been robbed at gunpoint twice, as have some family friends. One incident occurred as a family friend was preparing to ring Koretz’s doorbell, he said.
The city councilman also noted several pieces of legislation he and his colleagues have attempted to pass when he served in the Legislature, including a bill that would have required new semiautomatic handguns to be micro-stamped, which marks bullet cartridges and enables police to identify who purchased the ammunition. He said his co-author made a deal with the National Rifle Association (NRA) to kill the legislation. Feuer later authored a similar bill that was signed into law.
“No matter what the logic is, the NRA will oppose it,” Koretz said, adding that he expected the organization’s support because the bill wouldn’t affect citizens’ access to weapons.
He said the Los Angeles City Council is in support of Feuer’s request to reinstate the federal assault weapons ban. Koretz said the country must regulate weapons in a way that offers citizens access to weapons, while making massacres less likely.
“I think we just need to get back to common sense and not let ourselves be bullied,” he added.
LaBonge said the country needs a successful campaign against the use of assault weapons. He suggested that if the federal government reinstated the ban, the backlash would resemble that of anti-smoking campaigns. While residents may be reluctant initially, that opposition would likely diminish, LaBonge said.
“We have to find a way to do it,” he said.
Audience members questioned the effectiveness of legislation, as people can obtain guns for malicious purposes if they really want to. Baca said legislation is helpful.
“There [are] a lot of deaths caused by people who don’t mean to cause it,” he said, adding that regulations could also keep mentally ill people from getting weapons. “There has to be a system where human behavior is governed.”
In asking the audience’s next question, Feuer recited the frequently used line: “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” Moore said murderers cannot use an ax handle in an attempt to kill a theatre full of people.
“People kill people with guns,” he said, adding that the 2nd Amendment was drafted when muskets were citizens’ weapon of choice.
Moore also discussed “bullet buttons,” which allow shooters to reload rapidly. He asked whether it was necessary for a hunter or someone practicing self-defense to reload so many times so fast.
“That is for the purpose of war,” Moore said. “That is for the purpose of killing human beings.”
Audience members also asked whether legislators use moments of crisis to push legislation, pandering to that specific moment in time. Some panelists said that such issues push the debate to the forefront, garnering considerably more interest.
“We’re not asking for an all-out ban on weapons,” Baca said. “We just want people to be responsible.”
He referenced the county’s buy-back program, which trades gift cards for weapons. Baca said some of them are extraordinary and very expensive. He said he believes many Americans are afraid of guns deep down, and that sheriff’s deputies he’s interviewed after police-involved shootings can attest to that.
“You better be prepared to be the most scared you’ve ever been in your entire life,” Baca said. “It is nothing you want to do. It is counter-intuitive.”
An audience member named, Barbara, who declined to give her last name, said legislation tends to take aim at law-abiding citizens. She referenced the Colorado theatre shooting, and said the theatre was a “safe zone.”
“How many [people] would have been saved if they were allowed their right to carry?” Barbara asked.
Koretz said legislation against firearms is nothing new, as the first open carry law was instituted in Massachusetts in 1692. He said the 2nd Amendment does not state that guns cannot be regulated.
“This is not something new, something remarkable,” Koretz said, adding that law-abiding citizens don’t need assault weapons.
Barbara requested that legislators require gun safety lessons before allowing people to purchase firearms.
“Don’t reduce us all to the lowest common denominator,” she said.
Richard Castaldo, who was paralyzed in the Columbine shooting, asked if there was more support for background checks across the country. He said that played a role in the Columbine shooting, and he continues to see gun show advertisements that appear to allow people to purchase guns without background checks.
“That’s what it seems like,” Castaldo said.
Feuer said a huge number of weapons are sold in private transactions, and that some sellers can circumvent laws to do so. Moore said the country does need more reasonable controls, but the issue of assault weapons is the top priority.
The panelists advised residents with firearms to be responsible with them. They suggested locking them away and learning how to use them by visiting the firing range.
Feuer, who facilitated the event, said he received many requests from local citizens and groups to host the meeting after the shooting in Colorado.