March Meeting Recap

by Hilary Crosby

Our March 2013 meeting was productive and interesting. We began by electing Marty Suess our new Vice President of Membership. She takes over from Yvonne Steffen who served valorously for 3 years.


Our program on gun violence and gun safety consisted of two lively presentations—first Mark Chekal-Bain, from Assemblymember Nancy Skinner’s staff, gave us an in depth tour of gun violence statistics and legislative safety measures in effect and pending in California. Then El Cerrito’s Chief of Police Sylvia Moir informed us how law enforcement implements those measures.

The statistics are terrifying—in California 3,000 people are killed by guns each year, half are homicides and half are suicides. There are very few accidents. There were 120 gun deaths last year in Oakland, and across the US 30,000 people were killed with firearms.

However, the states with stronger gun laws have fewer gun deaths. California had the strongest gun safety laws in the US until just recently. In what’s being attributed to the Sandy Hook effect, the legislature in New York has passed legislation making their laws stronger than ours for the first time. In New York, all ammunition sellers have to be licensed, and their sales tracked.

At this time, we don’t regulate ammunition in California. However, Senator Loni Hancock has a bill to prohibit the sale and possession of clips with more than 10 rounds! In addition, “clip kits”—which would turn ordinary guns into assault weapons—would be banned. Assemblymember Skinner has a bill modeled after one in the City of Sacramento that puts a safeguard on bullets. Purchasers would have to show identification to buy ammunition. It would also require tracking of ammunition sales and alerting local law enforcement to purchases of ammunition in their district. It, too, would ban high capacity magazines and clip kits.

California has limitations on who can own guns, including that those convicted of felonies or violent misdemeanor can’t own gun for 10 years. Also, those listed in California’s database of people adjudged to be mentally ill and those deemed to be a danger to self or others under Section 5150 can’t own guns at all.

If anyone in one of those databases buys ammunition, it would be a “hot crime” and come to the attention of law enforcement. Sen. Kevin DeLeon has proposed a bill that will require background checks to buy ammunition. Right now it’s easier to buy bullets than alcohol, cigarettes or certain over the counter medication. These are not new ideas; the US used to regulate ammo sales, but in 1986 the National Rifle Association got those laws overturned. We now have weak national gun laws.

Chief Moir has been the Police Chief of El Cerrito since July 2010. Prior to that she was in Sacramento for 19 years. She rose through the ranks, attended Cal State Sacramento, and did doctoral level study in leadership. Captain Mike Regan second in command in the ECPD and in charge of operations accompanied her to our meeting.

Chief Moir is a voting member of CA Police Chiefs Association (CPCA). Comprised of 331 Chiefs in California, the CPCA represents 78% of the voting population of the state. The CPCA takes positions on bills because members believe that it’s important for police chiefs to reflect safety concerns of the entire state, not just their own specific communities.

The CPCA is supporting, opposing or watching nearly 400 pieces of legislation this year concerning rights, pensions, firearms, reporting, and traffic safety. It focuses on the rights of people, while recognizing that firearms are part of the fabric of our society. It’s important to examine new and destructive nature of firearms. The gun technology of today is very different from what existed when the second amendment was written. The CPCA supports President Obama’s legislative proposals for gun safety.

Chief Moir asked, “How do we support gun safety?”

Currently, there are 40,000 people in CA prohibited from carrying owning or possessing firearms who have firearms registered to them! There are only ten Department of Justice (DOJ) agents working to recover those guns.

In 1995, the CPCA took a leadership role concerning firearms listing 9 priorities:

  1. Registration
  2. Responsible ownership
  3. Magazine capacity
  4. Storage
  5. Safety standards
  6. Concealed weapons
  7. Assault Weapons
  8. Unlawful possession
  9. Mandatory destruction

The CPCA still holds to those priorities and has added removing barriers to destruction of seized weapons. In addition, the CPCA supports registration for ammunition, a  federal ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines and lessening barriers to background checks.

Chief Moir believes we have an obligation to do something to prevent those who legally cannot possess firearms from having guns. To that end, we need to provide sufficient resources to enforce existing CA legislation. The results of effectively enforcing current laws would show what changes or new legislation, if any, are needed.

Our question and answer session was lively and included a discussion about the difference between the attitudes towards guns in urban areas like El Cerrito and more rural areas, like Washington where our ECDC President Scott Lyons grew up. He said, “Everyone had a gun, talked about guns and considered gun ownership a civil right.” He asked if any of the gun safety legislation was cosponsored by legislators from rural areas. But sadly, most legislation originates and gets most of its support from urban areas. There is a rural/urban divide.

The thrust of the legislation is to keep guns out of hands of criminals and the mentally ill and make sure guns are stored safely in the home. Because when firearms are readily available and are the first tool used to resolve conflict, you see the terrible effect of firearms on families on a regular basis. Captain Reagan said, “ It takes only one
bullet to negatively impact someone’s life.”

Our discussion also included gun buyback programs. Since the programs don’t offer very much per gun, it’s difficult to convince people to sell them back. The programs mostly get old (March Meeting from page 3) souvenir guns, not high caliber assault weapons. Getting old, unwanted, uncared-for guns off the street is better than not getting them off the street, even if these efforts don’t include the rifles, shotguns and other more modern weapons.

Some of the bills have revenue streams,  like ammunition registration fees, to fund more DOJ agents; our current state budget has cut local law enforcement and DOJ, but need to fund them more. We wanted to know: What can we do to help improve gun safety?

Chief Moir suggested that we talk to the owner of any guns we know about to be sure it is stored safely; and that they know that the police will give free gun locks to any lawful owner who requests on at the EC Police Department. Also, go into community and talk about other means of resolving conflict besides using a gun and raise awareness and understanding of current and proposed gun related legislation.