Congressman and constituents come together to quell gun violence (Beverly Press)

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) joined constituents and gun control advocates for a town hall meeting on Tuesday to discuss and strategize about ways to save lives and keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.

The meeting at the Los Angeles Zoo’s Witherbee Auditorium was part of Schiff’s “Conversations With Your Congressman” series aimed at informing residents about important issues such as the rising wave of shootings throughout the United States. Perhaps no topic is as crucial to public safety as gun violence prevention, Schiff said. The meeting was organized in the wake of the mass shooting in June at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida and to inform the audience about ongoing efforts to stem gun violence.

Schiff said he is proud he participated in the congressional sit-in in June calling for stronger gun control legislation following the attacks in Orlando. A lack of cooperation by Republicans in the House of Representatives has led to stalemate on gun legislation, diminishing the government’s ability to address violence, he said. The congressman called on lawmakers to stand up to the pro-gun lobby and to come together on “common sense” legislation such as universal background checks for gun purchases. The sit-in was symbolic of the frustration many leaders felt over the situation, Schiff added.


“Little did any of us realize what would happen, and that [the sit-in] would really become a focal point of the nation,” Schiff said. “It really did capture the attention of the country. It certainly impressed me just how much I was not alone and how my constituents were not alone. They wanted something to change. People were calling the office to ask, ‘what can we do?’”


That question was a focal point of the meeting on Tuesday, as panelists offered suggestions to the more than 150 people in attendance. The panelists included Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California (EQCA); actor and activist Jason George, of the television show “Grey’s Anatomy” and the Everytown for Gun Safety Creative Council; and Loren Lieb, with the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence San Fernando Valley Chapter. The zoo was selected as the location to give constituents from east Pasadena to West Hollywood an opportunity to meet in a central location, Schiff said.


Zbur said pressure needs to be on put on lawmakers at the local and state levels to enact tougher gun laws that will serve as a model at the federal level.


“After the terrible tragedy in Orlando, we at Equality California decided we have to make addressing gun violence in the country a much higher priority. It’s not like it wasn’t a priority before because our community, the LGBT community, really does face a disparate impact in terms of how the community is [affected] by gun violence compared to the general public. And that’s due to discrimination and hate crimes,” Zbur said. “With the success the community has had with marriage equality over the course of the last year, we have had a backlash in a lot of communities across the country, so you see hate crimes on the rise.”


Zbur called on people to vote for Prop. 63, a measure on the upcoming November ballot that would require background checks for ammunition purchases and would further strengthen laws banning high-capacity gun magazines. He said EQCA also supported a recently approved package of bills for statewide gun control measures including a ban on the possession of high-capacity gun magazines.


The panelists agreed that a primary problem facing lawmakers is keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, such as people with criminal records and people with mental illness. Lieb experienced the impact of gun violence first-hand when her 6-year-old son was shot by a gunman at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999. The gunman who shot and injured five people at the center and later murdered a mail carrier nearby had been diagnosed with mental illness but was able to buy a gun in Washington state from a private party without a background check. Lieb’s son survived and is now an advocate for gun violence. She said calling and emailing government representatives and spreading the anti-gun violence message is key to enacting tougher legislation.


“Until we are all safe, none of us are safe,” Lieb said. “It’s not insurmountable. We don’t have to live like this. It’s not about taking guns away. People can own guns in a way that’s safe. Nobody is out to abolish the Second Amendment. We have to counter lies with facts.”


Additionally, the gunman in the Jewish community center shooting bought the firearm from a dealer who had a history of sales in which the guns were used illegally, Lieb said. She referred to them as “bad apple” gun dealers, and called on Congress to pass tougher regulations to combat the problem. Lieb also called for more legislation that would hold gun manufacturers accountable when their products are used to harm people.


“While other products have a federal body responsible for protecting safety, the gun industry doesn’t,” Lieb said. “They don’t have to make a safe product.”


George said he became an anti-gun violence advocate after the Sandy Hook massacre. He called on people to spread an anti-violence message based on facts that allow the information to be clearly conveyed without causing confrontation. Many moderate people who are pro-gun may be open to voting or advocating for laws such as universal background checks, and calm, fact-based approach is needed to help them understand the message, he said.


“We have a problem in this country. Right now, we have about three-times the gun ownership of other developing nations,” George said. “What I believe laws really do is focus the conversation. I am trying to work out some real-world solutions. I want these conversations to continue.”


George pointed to the need for federal gun control laws because state laws are too easy to circumvent.


“It’s the patchwork quilt thing,” George added. “It ultimately has to be a national thing.”


Schiff agreed that more should be done at the federal level to prevent gun violence and said his Republican colleagues appear to be more worried about their status with the National Rifle Association and reelection than the importance of laws that will make society safer. He also condemned the stigmatization of Muslims and minority groups when mass shootings occur. Anything other than working together is counterproductive, he added.


“The polarization is just paralyzing, when in the wake of these tragedies people try to exploit it,” Schiff said. “It’s enormously detrimental to have attacks on Muslims. It’s a disservice to a great community that is part of the fabric of America, and it’s very detrimental in the fight against ISIS.”


Schiff said he will continue to host periodic town halls to address national issues and encouraged constituents to contact his office with concerns. Pasadena resident Whitney Harrison said the information about taking a calm but informed approach to discussing gun violence with others was important.


“I was happy to hear that there are things we can to do to take action,” Harrison said. “I think the biggest thing I learned was the language to use when having this conversation on a daily basis.”

By:  Edwin Folven
Source: Beverly Press