by Sally Lieber
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.
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.