schools.jpgNational and local leaders spoke out Wednesdayin San Francisco about efforts to move forward on the discussion to prevent gun violence at the city, state and federal level.

The meeting held this afternoon at the Omega Boys Club at 1060 Tennessee St. included House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and police Chief Greg Suhr.

The panel addressed guns and violence issues and concerns raised by audience members who were from local community organizations, faith groups, schools and health groups.

“It is necessary for us to act,” Pelosi said, heading off the discussion about gun violence in cities across America.

Speier and Thompson sit on a Democratic congressional gun violence task force that has held hearings in the past month to come up with recommendations based on testimonies from different groups invested in gun control issues.

Speier noted that handling the growing rate of gun violence is “our collective problem.”
She mentioned the 680 guns collected last weekend in San Mateo County at a gun buyback program she sponsored.

Lee alluded to similar buyback programs in the works within San Francisco.

“We have to erase the attitude that violence can resolve something,” Lee said.

At the city level, Lee said whenever he is told about a youth who is killed by a gun he “pictures who that youth was and who she or he could have become.”

He called on the community to take gun violence personally and not leave it up to politicians or law enforcement to solve the problem.

Chief Suhr mentioned the set of recommendations Obama proposed earlier this month and said we need to support the president in pushing forward efforts to combat violence.

Thompson has been holding a series of town hall meetings in his district in Sonoma County this past month which he said is a key component in coming up with a “comprehensive solution to this very serious problem.”

He cited 30-plus gun-related deaths occurring daily in the U.S. as a staggering statistic that needs to be cut back.

“We have a responsibility to come together and work together,” he said.

At today’s meeting he was candid about owning guns and being a hunter–he said when he heard about the Newtown, Conn., school shooting that left 20 children dead while he was duck hunting in Yolo County.

“I also believe strongly in the Second Amendment,” he said. “We can address this in an responsible way and respect the right to own firearms.”

He said today’s community meeting was a step in addressing the issue, and proceeded to take a question from woman who identified herself as a shooting victim and asked about legislative efforts to enact universal background checks.

Thompson acknowledged that a majority of law-abiding gun owners are in support of background checks and said, “it is not an inconvenience,” as some gun advocates have claimed.

Suzanne Flecker, a teacher at Aragon High School in San Mateo asked about better protecting schools, to which Suhr responded that better training and response was needed at campuses.

Lee said in San Francisco he has called for security assessments to see where schools are most vulnerable.

Sam Ruiz, executive director of the Mission Neighborhood Center, asked about state programs to ensure that certain people do not have access to guns and that certain weapons are confiscated.

Pelosi and Speier acknowledged that California has some of the most stringent gun prevention laws, but still more resources and money is needed.

Overall, Thompson emphasized that no one is trying to take away all guns, but Congress needs to help make gun ownership safer and better regulated.

Pelosi said the takeaway from today’s meeting is “seize the moment.”

“This is a fight,” she said, “We have to do something.”

She emphasized that a clear message such as demanding background checks and bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is needed to enact change.

Dr. Joe Marshall, the executive director of the Omega Boys Club, told the audience that he believes now is the time to change gun laws and that the “political window” was now open.

The Congressional task force is expected to share recommendations with Pelosi by the end of the first week of February, Thompson said.

Sasha Lekach, Bay City News

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