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'Bring everything you've got': SLO panelists urge action on curbing gun violence

A town hall meeting on gun safety held May 26 at the United Church of Christ in San Luis Obispo, was hosted by student organizers of March for Our Lives and the Women's March.  Speakers from left, Dr. Eric Prater, SLCUD Superintendent; Richard Martinez, Everytown for Gun Safety representative; Andy Pease, SLO City Councilperson; and California State Rep. Salud Carbajal.
A town hall meeting on gun safety held May 26 at the United Church of Christ in San Luis Obispo, was hosted by student organizers of March for Our Lives and the Women's March. Speakers from left, Dr. Eric Prater, SLCUD Superintendent; Richard Martinez, Everytown for Gun Safety representative; Andy Pease, SLO City Councilperson; and California State Rep. Salud Carbajal. The Tribune

As an estimated 230 people sat down in a San Luis Obispo church on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend for a town hall on gun violence, the significance of the holiday wasn't lost on one of the panelists.

Richard Martinez, whose 20-year-old son Christopher Michaels-Martinez was one of three people killed by a shooter in Isla Vista in 2014, marked the occasion by discussing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall that sits in Washington, D.C. There are nearly 60,000 names on the wall.

"Every year in this country, 13,000 Americans are killed in gun homicides," he said. "If we built the Vietnam Wall for civilians who've been killed in this country in the last 10 years, it would be twice the length of the Vietnam Wall."

Martinez was one of four panelists who spoke at the town hall at the United Church of Christ (Congregational) on Los Osos Valley Road.

San Luis Obispo, California, is part of March For Our Lives, a worldwide planned demonstration on March 24. Locals walked through downtown SLO to protest for better gun control and safer schools after recent mass shootings.

Also speaking at the event — hosted by Women's March San Luis Obispo in partnership with local high school students and a variety of organizations — were U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara), San Luis Obispo City Council member Andy Pease and San Luis Coastal Unified School District Superintendent Eric Prater.

Panelists were asked a series of questions, first by student moderators, then by other area high school and college students and finally by the general public.

Carbajal noted in his opening remarks that Congress has held 47 moments of silence for victims of mass shootings since the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that saw more than two dozen killed, including 20 young children.

Martinez later said that an event as traumatic as Sandy Hook means every American has been affected by gun violence, if if they themselves have not lost any loved ones to it. Despite that, he said, "We as a country have done nothing about it."

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A town hall meeting on gun safety held May 26 at the United Church of Christ in San Luis Obispo, was hosted by student organizers of March for Our Lives and the Women's March. Speakers from left, Dr. Eric Prater, SLCUD Superintendent; Richard Martinez, Everytown for Gun Safety representative; Andy Pease, SLO City Councilperson; and California State Rep. Salud Carbajal. Laura Dickinson The Tribune

Panelists had a variety of solutions they said would do something about the American gun-violence epidemic.

Carbajal and Martinez, both military veterans, said there is no place for assault rifles in the hands of the public; both called for curbing access to semi-automatic rifles that allow shooters to fire a high quantity of rounds in a short amount of time.

"I served in the Marine Corps, I know what assault rifles do," Carbajal said.

He later said, "Assault rifles are not hunting rifles. They are made for killing."

"Those are weapons designed to kill people," Martinez said. "Not only kill people, but to kill as many people as you can as quickly as possible."

Prater said state and federal lawmakers need to act against designer drugs and violent video games, which, along with isolation and access to guns, he said, contribute to gun violence.

Hundreds of students walk out of class at San Luis Obispo High School as part of the National Walkout for Gun Safety on Wednesday, March 14, 2018. The 17-minute protests unfolded at hundreds of schools across the country.

Prater said he's made it a point in his district "to ditch the walkie-talkie," to spend less money and resources on security measures and more time getting to personally know the students and encouraging his staff to do the same.

Asked by a student whether he plans to increase school security, in light of recent on-campus break-ins at San Luis Obispo High School, Prater said, "There are no immediate plans to enhance security."

In part, the superintendent said, that's because the future closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant means the district no longer has money for a school resource officer. And in part, he said, it's because the school district has a strong working relationship with local police.

"They're there withing two minutes (of receiving a call)," he said. "We feel we have adequate staffing for security."

Pease said there is very little that she and her fellow city council members can do to address gun violence; though she said she recently consulted the city attorney about what the options are.

Those include requiring criminal background checks for concealed carry permits and regulating time and place for gun shows, she said. However, Pease floated the idea of pursuing a gun buyback program. A gun buyback in Santa Cruz earlier this year netted hundreds of firearms, including more than a dozen assault rifles, she said.

Pease also called on student protesters to continue speaking out; she said there is no real limit to how far protesters should take their efforts.

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A town hall meeting on gun safety held May 26 at the United Church of Christ in San Luis Obispo, was hosted by student organizers of March for Our Lives and the Women's March. Speakers from left, Dr. Eric Prater, SLCUSD Superintendent, Richard Martinez, Everytown for Gun Safety representative, San Luis Obispo City Council member Andy Pease, and U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara). Laura Dickinson The Tribune

"At this point, bring everything you've got," she said.

Many parts of San Luis Obispo County skew politically conservative, and Martinez received a question from a Templeton High School student about how she and other people can reach out to their pro-gun friends and family.

Martinez responded that he was not opposed to the Second Amendment, adding that it existed when he was a child and there were far fewer gun deaths in America.

He said it's important to point out that, like the decades-long effort to reduce motor vehicle deaths in America, it's going to take a comprehensive approach to reduce gun violence.

"There's no solution for gun violence," Martinez said. "There are solutions for gun violence."

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler
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