Santa Clara County officials discussed prohibiting unserialized firearms and measures to reduce gun violence locally as a mass shooting unfolded in Texas.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 24, ordered its legal representative to come up with recommendations for an ordinance banning ghost guns — non-serialized firearms that can be assembled from parts or through 3D printers, making them difficult to trace.
The board also received an interim report on the financial cost of gun violence in Santa Clara County. Firearm incidents cost the county $72 million each year, according to a county report. This estimate covers the costs from public sector responses to gun violence, including health care and the police, and does not cover incarceration. The report also claims Santa Clara County had about 550,000 firearms in 2021 — roughly one gun for every four residents.
Supervisor Otto Lee noted seven ghost guns were recovered at a gun buyback event held in Milpitas on Sunday, which marked the first such event since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents turned in a total of 415 firearms.
"I do really think this is the canary in the coal mine of what's already in our community," Lee said.
Several California cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, recently passed laws banning non-serialized firearms. A San Jose memo noted ghost guns are appearing with growing frequency at crime scenes, and in Santa Clara County the number of non-serialized guns found at crime scenes went from four in 2015 to 293 in 2021.
The board agreed to review a slate of recommendations for reducing gun violence at a future August meeting. Recommendations include adopting gun safety policies, evaluating firearm policies through a racial equity lens and using community-centered approaches to reduce gun violence in neighborhoods.
As the meeting reached its conclusion, Supervisor Cindy Chavez noted a shooting had taken place at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas where a gunman killed 14 children and a teacher (the number of victims has since risen to 19 children and two teachers).
Chavez said earlier this week that the county decided to examine the cost of gun violence following the 2019 shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. She said the report offers an opportunity for the county to weigh strategies for addressing gun violence. "There are communities all over the country that have used different kinds of strategies to lower gun violence," Chavez said. "There are plenty of opportunities for us to look at that aren't necessarily all very cost prohibitive for us to be able to address this."
A 'shocking' amount
The county considered enhanced gun control measures just before the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at VTA's light rail yard. The attack prompted San Jose officials to crack down on gun violence, which included passing the country's first liability insurance mandate for gun owners. City officials also recently passed a local ordinance that prohibits possessing, manufacturing, selling, assembling, receiving or distributing ghost guns.
Over the past two decades, 1,494 county residents have died from firearm-related injuries, with the most common cause being suicide. The report shows Latino residents are disproportionately impacted by gun violence — more than half of all non-fatal firearm injuries reported at emergency rooms between 2016-2020 were for Latinos, who only account for 25% of the county's population.
Rosalinda Aguilar, executive board member of the Guadalupe Washington Neighborhood Association, said a memorial still stands on the corner of Almaden Avenue and Oak Street where a person was killed in a drive-by shooting.
"Our children have the right to walk to and from school without fear of being caught up in the crossfire of gun battles," she said.
Margaret Petros, executive director of Mothers Against Murder, a nonprofit that assists victims of violent crimes, said she was stunned by the financial cost of gun violence in Santa Clara County.
"$72 million is shocking to me," Petros told San José Spotlight. She noted the financial burden of gun violence can be traumatizing for families, citing as an example the exorbitant cost of planning a funeral, which can cost approximately $25,000.
Petros is dubious that bans on ghost guns will have an impact on criminal violence, noting that people can still harm one another with knives or other weapons. She said it would make more sense for the county to invest in resources to help victims of crimes that would stop the cycle of violence.
"The system needs to start caring about individual people," Petros said. "If we start educating children at a very young age about how painful (crime) is… that's when we will prevent crimes and prevent gun violence."
Jose Valle, an organizer with community advocacy group Silicon Valley De-Bug, said he couldn't speak on the potential public safety impact of the ghost gun ordinance. But he noted the county should invest more in addressing the root causes of crime.
"The majority of crime that is committed in Santa Clara County is not done by people that are inherently criminal, or inherently malicious," Valle told San José Spotlight. "A lot of it stems from inequality and poverty — that's what needs to be discussed and confronted."
This story, from Bay City News Service, was originally published on San Jose Spotlight.