Guest Opinion: Stemming the tide of gun violence

Former state Assembly member advocates action in the face of violence

After every mass shooting in America we send our thoughts and prayers to those affected, and if we're lucky, we get to turn the page, scroll down and click on the next story, move on with our lives. We wish that things would change, but we don't take action. We assume that we are powerless in the face of a Congress that seems beholden to a well-funded gun industry.

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. We don't have to accept a future that is like the present, where we lose more than a World Trade Center's worth of victims to gun violence every three months, where thousands of Americans become disabled due to gun crimes and where millions live in fear, intimidated by the possibility of random violence in schools, shopping centers, churches, streets or in their own homes.

Sally Lieber
Instead of acquiescing to the gun industry, we can take action in our own communities. We can continue to hold Congress accountable but still move forward. As taxpayers and members of a caring community we pay the cost of a dangerously permissive status quo. Strong, common-sense measures to deter gun violence can — and must — be advanced in every local community.

In fact, the strongest possibility for creating that movement is here, in one of the most progressive parts of a "blue" state where innovation is a tradition. We've seen the impact that communities like Palo Alto can have, not just on the thought leadership that leads to technology innovation, but also in environmental and social policies that are transplanted to other communities and impacts the state and national policy agenda.

The gun-violence-prevention activists who have reached out to Palo Alto's City Council are asking that the Council build on a strong foundation of protective ordinances: The city requires a police permit for gun dealers, bans gun dealing in residential neighborhoods or near sensitive sites like childcare centers and schools, and requires that dealers carry liability insurance. Now Palo Alto has the opportunity to add further protections, including additional security measures for dealers, restrictions on possession of certain guns and peripheral equipment, requiring reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and requiring that guns be secured in the home.

Primary among these approaches is the ability of local governments to use their authority to regulate gun and ammunition dealers. Palo Alto can build on its existing ordinances by requiring additional physical security measures for gun businesses, such as 24-hour video surveillance. The city can make gun and ammunition dealing a conditional use, requiring a zoning permit that gives the community a chance to comment and to be involved in a public decision process.

The city can also require gun and ammunition dealers to keep records of their sales and inventory and make these records available to police. This can help prevent individuals who are prohibited from owning firearms from buying firearms or ammunition. These "prohibited persons" include convicted felons, people identified as having a dangerous mental illness and federal fugitives. Voters in Sunnyvale recently approved a measure that requires dealers to keep records of ammunition sales.

Cities like Palo Alto can also regulate the kind of firearms equipment that can be possessed within its jurisdiction. The State of California has long banned the sale of high-capacity magazines that store many rounds of ammunition on a firearm. An example is the 30-round magazine that is standard to the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. Now, local communities, including Sunnyvale, are stepping up to ban the possession of these banned-for-sale high-capacity magazines, and, as with record keeping of ammunition sales, the federal courts are supporting local governments' right to do so.

Last year, Palo Alto held a successful gun buyback event in collaboration with East Palo Alto and Menlo Park and supported by two crowd-funding platforms, Gun By Gun and Protect Our Children Bay Area. This is a very helpful step in preventing unwanted, potentially unsecured weapons from being used accidentally or misused.

These and other strategies can be adopted by local governments or placed before the voters in a ballot initiative. However it happens, the most important thing is to begin. Any citizen can go and lobby local government, at the city, county, school board or special district level, to take action to stem gun violence. The "good actors," like the City of Palo Alto that already have policy infrastructure in place, can have a profound impact on other cities by improving what they have.

It is likely that as local communities like Palo Alto step up to take action, gun-rights groups and individuals with a financial incentive will sue. While gun-rights groups and activists have been unsuccessful in recent attempts to intimidate local communities in the Bay Area, they will continue. Luckily, the Bay Area's legal community has stepped up to provide pro bono legal representation for local communities to protect taxpayers from legal costs.

The survivors of gun violence and families who have suffered a devastating loss are coming together to say that good intentions alone do little for them. They don't want to hear how sad we are about their senseless loss — they want us to take action, to as Teddy Roosevelt said, "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have." Either local city councils or the voters can take advantage of the opportunity to move forward. The Bay Area can become a leader in gun-violence reduction and create a safer, saner future. But we can't simply wait for Congress or another state or another region to do it. It's up to us now.

Sally Lieber is a former state Assembly member who authored California's ban on sales of .50 caliber assault weapons. She helped spearhead a recent gun-violence-reduction voter initiative in Sunnyvale.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 9:07 am

Thank you for this common sense article.

4 people like this
Posted by Just-Go-Away-Sally-Lieber
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 10:08 am

Anti-gun advocates—like Ms. Lieber—have provided nothing in the way of evidence that gun violence is an issue here in Palo Alto, or that any of the anti-gun/Anti-American ordinances that she (as a non-resident) is proposing will reduce the number of gun-related deaths in Palo Alto, or anywhere else, for that matter.

It’s doubtful that Ms. Lieber could provide us any meaningful statistics about gun violence. She claims (as others do) that 33,000 people are killed by guns in the US every year. Yet, she failed to tell us how many of these deaths were suicide related, now many were people killed by police, how many were criminals killing criminals, how many were accidental deaths, and how many were deaths caused to totally innocent people by criminal activities—such as drive-by murder attempts.

[Portion removed] the reality is that very few innocent people are killed in the US by guns. Far more are killed by alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents, or even simply checking into a hospital results in the needless deaths of about 100K people a year.

Here are a couple of bits of data of which Ms. Lieber is probably not likely to share with the public--

List of Rampage Killers:
Web Link

Washington Post—Gun Violence and Mass Shootings:
Web Link

Even the Libeal Washington Post does not seem on a tear to dismantle the 2nd Amendment, as Ms. Lieber is doubtless trying to do.

People who take the time to do a little research quickly come to the realization that suicides and crime-related deaths are a huge component of the yearly number of gun-related deaths. Swimming pool deaths are higher than gun-related deaths in some areas. Arguments that removing guns from the general population would end this large number of suicides is delusional. For instance, 10-20 people a year commit death-by-Caltrain here on the Peninsula.

Passing draconian anti-gun laws in Palo Alto would be nothing more than symbolic. Gun-related crime is virtually non-existent in this town—and there is no evidence that legal gun owners are responsible for perpetrating gun-related crimes here, or elsewhere in the US. The people perpetrating the mass shootings are not likely to abide by any of Sally Lieber's new laws.

Cigarettes/Cancer are supposed to take about 400,000-500,000 lives a year. If Ms. Lieber, and her ilk, were interested in saving lives—why hasn’t she used her political energies to outlaw tobacco products? And then there is the 100K deaths in hospitals. Certainly, with California having about 10% of the population—that amounts up to 10K unnecessary medical-related deaths, which is more than the number of gun-related deaths here in the Golden State.

Sally Lieber represents the worst of the worst of Liberal politicians. [Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by what?
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 27, 2014 at 10:43 am

To: Just go away Sally Lieber; it is people like you who stand in the way of progress in helping to reduce GUN violence. The second amendment as written a LONG time ago by the founders of this great country sought to have us bear arms against England. NO way did they say we could arm ourselves with AR-17 ASSAULT rifles with 30 round clips and kill innocent people. It is you who are blindly against ANY kind of gun control. [Portion removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 10:46 am

I could not disagree with you more.

Ms.Lieber, thank you for your courageous common sense article. There are a great many of us who support you passionately. For many NRA supporters, nothing would ever constitute evidence about the dangers of guns even if it were to hit them in the nose in the form of a bullet.

Like this comment
Posted by Arghhh
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:03 am

I find it impossible to understand this debate. Can we not get together and agree that the society that cannot protect its first graders from a deranged soul armed with the kind of weapons available only to our beloved US Citizens and those that we sell to around the world is doomed to destruction? Picture those babies shot to pieces in their school. We are way too good for this mud slinging. Thank you, Sally for a measured statement of your views. Just go away? I thank you for your thoughts but cannot connect it to the bloody hallway at Newtown. Can you state who you would address this and how we could all get together and work this out as citizens of a community?

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Posted by BA
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:54 am

Well said Sally Lieber! what are the next steps?

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Posted by Silly
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 27, 2014 at 12:00 pm

And the idiotic NRA continues to lobby against restrictions for those convicted of domestic violence and stalking.

What's next? The presence of those Open Carry morons in restaurants, bars and churches?

Shame on the NRA and those who defend them.

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Posted by Mental Case
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 1:30 pm

It is extremely important that mental health care be easily accessible to those who need it. most insurance companies still do not cover it, and it is very pricey.

It is also expedient that mentally ill and unstable people, especially those prone to violence, have someone watching out for them, be it family, the justice system,,or whoever--someone who can hospitalize them whenever it becomes urgent and necessary.

My own nephew is mildly autistic, and prone to violent rages at the drop of a hat. His parents were in denial, but most other acquaintances were aware of this, and looked out for him. Therefore, when my nephew decided to get into someone else's argument and tried to beat one of the arguers to death with a garbage can lid, my other nephew, who is one of the people watching out for my autistic nephew, subdued him and took him to a nearby hospital.

The hospital could not admit him to their psyche ward, but they did give him a sedative and gave him time to come out of his rage.

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Posted by please no
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 1:53 pm

While I agree that gun violence is out of control, I do not agree that the right place to legislate tighter controls is at the city or even county level. Please take your ideas to the state or federal level. This is a waste of time and resources to PA

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Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 27, 2014 at 3:45 pm

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 27, 2014 at 10:53 pm

Australia is a prime example of working gun regulations. But as long as the NRA controls politicians, it will only get worse.

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:06 pm

If one were to seriously address this issue, it may be far more productive to control the loons in our society rather than just the guns.

I've been in Palo Alto since 1969, and the only frightening use of firearms I remember in the city was when a police officer shot a mountain lion with an assault rifle.

I've never seen a gun store in Palo Alto, but there are certainly lots of loons.

I'm far more troubled that we don't do anything about the mentally troubled. Remember, those troubled folks don't need a gun to cause mass destruction and loss of life. All it takes is a match. You may notice more fires lately.

2 people like this
Posted by The quiet majority
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 27, 2014 at 11:35 pm

It saddens me that as a gun owner I am tarred with the same brush as folks that cannot control their impulses. It isn't the gun, or the knife, or the garbage can lid that is the problem. It is the person. We have lots of laws - and bad stuff keeps happening. Maybe the approach of even more laws is the wrong approach. Maybe we need to teach respect, compassion, personal responsibility.

Don't try statistics - if you do, we'd need to outlaw cars, smoking and alcohol, trains, and rope.

The gun lobby is well funded, and that is a good thing. It helps balance the equally crazy efforts of the anti-gun lobby.

2 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2014 at 12:00 am

I think Ms. Lieber's heart is in the right place. I think we should start there. Most anti-gun people care deeply about the safety of those around them. So do gun owners. Anti-gun people want to reduce violence in our society. So do gun owners.

Gun owners are people just like you! We have kids, we love them. We are moms and dads, brothers, sisters, friends etc. We hate violence!

We just happen to enjoy the hobby of shooting sports. We are law abiding and very safety conscious. If we see someone acting irresponsibly, they are asked to leave gun ranges, and if they break the law they are reported to the police.

If you really want to have a dialogue, I recommend you visit a gun range. Don't lie - just say you don't understand what shooting sports are all about, and you'd like to learn more. Take a class in gun safety - I guarantee you'll meet some great people.

I'm an NRA member. Try to remember that millions of people are NRA members. So, you can demonize the singular organization, but remember it derives its power from millions of regular people who feel strongly that owning a gun is a legally protected right. We are not nuts and fanatics. We are nice people! Most of my interaction with the NRA has been through safety classes and friendly competition.

Finally, I want to call into question that an entire new level of laws and regulations governing firearms ownership will reduce violence. Narcotics are illegal - does it stop people from doing drugs? You need a current license and registration to drive a car, yet every day people drive without one. In Palo Alto, we have a gas powered leaf blower ordinance that stops no one, and leash laws that are completely ignored.

More laws will not stop the violence. I think addressing some societal problems may help - like improving education, having more jobs, breaking the cycle of poverty, encouraging self sufficiency, resourcefulness, and making sure that the kids stay out of gangs and have a stable family life.

Mental health is a very important issue. I would love to see less stigma and more understanding! More healthy intervention at a younger age.

I am a gun owner, and I share your concerns, but i just differ in how we should get there!

2 people like this
Posted by A Noun Ea Mus
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 28, 2014 at 5:35 am

People are slowly and steadily getting fed up with any dialogue with the gun nuts. Your obscurtation via latching onto any distraction-- it's mental illness, it's video games, why can't we all just get along in our national arsenal, etc. We are sick of it all. Like with climate change the steadily growing toll will eventually cause a tsunami of regulation. But guns can have a beneficial role. Sherman's March 2.0

2 people like this
Posted by Neale
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2014 at 8:58 am

I am a long time resident of Palo Alto, and I appreciate it as a city with both insight and foresight because of its educated and informed population. I hope that we continue to carefully consider the issue of violence without allowing emotion to overwhelm our understanding.

We often hear that statistics are like lamp posts, they’re used more for support than for illumination. Palo Alto should be considering policy based on fact rather than fiction. To do that we must stop paying attention to reports from those with an agenda and start paying attention to the reports from dis-interested parties. Recent reports from the Center for Decease Control and other organizations acknowledge that gun violence is down, and that it has been going down for the last 20 years.

I agree that we need to understand the cause of violence, but we also need to recognize that guns are not the problem. The recent knife attack in China and the bombing at the marathon should suggest to the most casual observer that violence is not a gun issue. Violence comes from the heart, not the barrel of a gun; guns are just a tool.

I also agree that the right to safety is inalienable, and like the Right to Free Speech and the Right to Assembly, the people have a Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Unfortunately, like the First and Forth Amendments the Second Amendment is under attack by those who would prefer control to freedom.

Restricting the rights of law abiding citizens will not reduce gun violence and I believe it will increase crime. How successful has the Government been at keeping drugs off the street? How successful has the Government been at stopping human trafficking? What makes anyone think that the Government can take guns out of the hands of criminals?

Before you ask me what I’m afraid of, let me say that what I fear most are people who are willing to give up their rights, and take away the rights of others, because they have been convinced by someone else that it’s for the greater good.

When a drunk driver kills people we blame the driver. When a mad bomber kills people we blame the bomber. When a deranged shooter kills people we blame the gun. It doesn’t make sense. Punishing all citizens because of the criminal behavior of a few is not going to make our community safer.

In fact, if we as community in an enlightened city are so concerned about the safety of our children why don’t we focus on the biggest problem first. Thousands of children lose their lives every day through the violent act, and yet legal right, of abortion: Where’s the outrage?

2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2014 at 9:27 am

I don't for one moment think that gun control will stop criminal behavior.
I don't for one moment think that more regulations will prevent crime.

I do however believe that gun control will prevent a child accidentally shooting his/her brother/sister with a gun carelessly left around in a home when a parent is momentarily distracted and leaves it about.

I do however believe that gun control might prevent a man accidentally shooting a family member arriving home when he comes home unexpectedly and creeps in so as not to wake those who are sleeping.

I do however believe that gun control might prevent someone in the heat of an argument getting the gun to set off a warning shot.

I do however believe that some type of gun control might have prevented Oscar Pistorius from accidentally shooting the woman he loved thinking she was an intruder.

More deaths from accidental shootings can and will be prevented if there were less guns in the homes of responsible people. Even responsible people can make an irreversible mistake with a gun. Even responsible drivers sometimes make a mistake of judgment. Even great cooks can accidentally cut a finger with a knife. Guns are designed as weapons, cars are designed to get their occupants from one place to another and knives are designed to cut food.

It is the accidental shootings that worry me, not the crime statistics.

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Posted by Bill Bucy
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm

There are no gun dealers in Palo Alto nor are there any stores that sell ammunition.

A city ordinance bans gun dealers from areas zoned to allow housing or within 250 feet of such a zone. Even the briefest glance at a map shows that eliminates the possibility of a gun store from ever opening here. But that doesn't stop Lieber from proposing laws to regulate a business that doesn't exist and won't exist in Palo Alto.

Clearly Lieber did no research before writing her article. That kind of carelessness only hurts the credibility of people seeking legitimate and reasonable gun controls. The publication of such silliness also hurts The Weekly's credibility.

Like this comment
Posted by The real issue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2014 at 2:28 pm

The problem is with the person who owns the gun ( or club, or knife, or tire iron). Too many people with schizophrenia, paranoia, impulse control and other mental health issues are able to buy weapons.

In short, the buyers must be better screened, the sellers must do some of that screening. If the buyer seems like a looney, do. to sell to him!

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Posted by The real issue
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2014 at 2:30 pm

...that s/b: do NOT sell to him!

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Posted by 212renee
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 28, 2014 at 6:49 pm

Oh my goodness. Since when is "a World Trade Center's worth" a standard until of measurement? What sort of people are we when we attenpt to unitize the toll of human suffering; of lives and innocence lost?
Do you have some sick conversion calculator handy that says "a World Trade Center's worth" is the equivalent of 225 Columbines or 135 Sandy Hooks or 210 Auroras? Is there a heartless, mindless app for that?
Let's have a little more decency and compassion or else start calculating our own miserable self-worth before that too has depreciated to nothing.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill Bang
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 26, 2016 at 10:21 am

[Post removed.]

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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