Palo Alto Weekly

News - February 22, 2013

Gun control events to be held this weekend

Palo Alto, East Palo Alto will host candlelight vigil, rally and gun buyback

by Gennady Sheyner and Ranjini Raghunath

Advocates for gun control are hoping to raise the issue's profile this weekend as various local cities and community groups host events aimed at getting guns off the streets.

A candlelight vigil is planned for Friday, Feb. 22, in downtown Palo Alto. On Saturday, a gun-buyback program will take place at East Palo Alto City Hall while a rally is scheduled at Palo Alto City Hall.

Gun control has come to the forefront across the nation following the Dec. 22 killing of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and President Barack Obama's identification of gun control as a major priority during his "State of the Union" speech earlier this month. In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee has proposed laws banning hollow-point ammunition and requiring police notification any time someone buys 500 or more rounds of ammunition.

Earlier this month, Lee wrote a letter to the Palo Alto City Council urging the city to support similar legislation.

"The Newtown tragedy has reinvigorated the national gun control debate and inspired many to ensure that we are doing all that we can do to keep citizens safe," Lee wrote. "I have personally committed myself and my administration to pursuing all avenues to keep guns and the most deadly forms of ammunition out of ill-intentioned hands."

Politicians aren't the only ones stepping up. Volunteer groups have been popping up in the Palo Alto area to urge greater gun-control efforts. Several will hold events this weekend, coinciding with the gun-buyback event in East Palo Alto.

"We really need to end gun violence and educate people on what they can do as individuals," said Pam Salvatierra, spokesperson for the nonprofit Organizing for Action, which is holding Friday's vigil against gun violence at 6 p.m. at Lytton Plaza, on the corner of Emerson Street and University Avenue.

Under the slogan "Protect Children, Not Guns," the candlelight event is part of a nationwide Day of Action to End Gun Violence campaign, which is calling for the U.S. Congress to expand background checks for gun purchases.

Stronger background checks are the first step in Obama's plan to reduce gun violence, Salvatierra said.

Marc Berman, a Palo Alto City Council member, will speak at the event about the activities of Organizing for Action, which serves as a platform for mobilizing people to speak out for the policies outlined in Obama's second-term agenda, according to the president's website. The nonprofit was launched out of Obama's 2012 re-election campaign as an entity separate from the Democratic Party.

Gun control is one of the three key issues, along with immigration reform and climate change, that the organization focuses on.

Berman is expected to make the case for congressional action against gun violence and help attendees learn about how they can get involved, according to the organization. The event will also educate people about the steps that are being and could be taken against gun violence in the state and country.

Candles and signs will be provided for all participants, who are also encouraged to bring their own signs. People will be invited to talk about their personal experiences with gun violence, Salvatierra said.

The Saturday gun-buyback event is being organized by the cities of Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. The three cities are teaming up with the nonprofit Protect Our Children Bay Area for the event, in which people may anonymously turn in their guns for cash between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. at 2415 University Ave., East Palo Alto.

The mayors and police chiefs from the three cities were present at Palo Alto City Hall Feb. 11, when Palo Alto Mayor Greg Scharff read a proclamation in which the city "acknowledges that the voluntary surrender of firearms potentially reduces the likelihood of gun violence, accidental shootings and suicides involving firearms, promoting a safer community."

East Palo Alto Mayor Ruben Abrica, whose city passed a similar proclamation, said at the meeting that the city's previous gun-buyback events have been successful.

"It definitely sends a message: 'Let's get rid of (guns) and not have them lying around,'" Abrica said.

Protect Our Children, a Menlo Park-based nonprofit organization started by Silicon Valley investor Roger Lee, has raised tens of thousands of dollars for the buyback event, James Cook, the group's outreach coordinator, said in an interview late last month.

Local residents will be paid $100 for a handgun, $200 for a rifle or shotgun, and $300 for an assault weapon.

The group is hoping the event could bring in 700 to 800 firearms, according to Lee and Cook.

Guns will be accepted anonymously with no questions asked. No names or license plates will be recorded, and the guns will be marked for destruction. East Palo Alto officers are asking that participants transport firearms unloaded in the trunks of their cars.

To coincide with the buyback, the group Silicon Valley Community Against Gun Violence will hold its rally in front of Palo Alto City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave., from 11 a.m. to noon. U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-14th District, will speak, said group founder Bonnie Bernstein.

Speier, as an aide to U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan in 1978, was shot five times in Jonestown, Guyana, while on a trip to investigate Jim Jones and his People's Temple cult.

Abrica and Roger Lee are also scheduled to participate in the Saturday rally in Palo Alto.

Silicon Valley Community Against Gun Violence formed in January and has asked the City of Palo Alto to join Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group that has 800 members nationally, and issue a proclamation in support of Obama's gun-violence policies.

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner and Editorial Intern Ranjini Raghunath can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com and rraghunath@paweekly.com.

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