Legislators and activists spoke Thursday night at the Marjorie Luke Theatre on gun violence in America and what can be done to address the “profit-driven crisis” causing mass shootings, domestic violence, suicide and accidents across America.
The panel discussion, which followed a screening of the film “Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA,” included the film’s director, Robert Greenwald; State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson; Assemblymember Das Williams; Mayor Helene Schneider; Toni Wellen, chairwoman of the SB Coalition Against Gun Violence; and Bob Weiss, father of UCSB student Veronica Weiss who was killed in the Isla Vista mass murder in May 2014. The film, which brought many members of the audience to tears, was released on March 15 by Brave New Films and has since been screened at over 500 schools, churches and meeting centers across the country, according to Greenwald.
Greenwald said he hopes the film will contribute to a change in culture similar to what was seen in years past with the use of cigarettes or the need for seatbelts in cars.
“Nobody thought we could beat the cigarette companies, nobody thought we would beat the automobile companies when they tried to convince us you don’t need safety belts,” Greenwald said. “One day, we will look back with the same belief and awareness that we stopped and changed the culture of guns.”
Jackson said the notion that anybody can own a gun needs to be revisited.
“We need to take another look at what the Second Amendment says. It says ‘a well regulated militia’ being necessary to the security of a free state and the right of the individual to bear arms shall not be infringed,” Jackson said. “It will be up to states like California … to stay one step ahead of this issue and try and get a renewal of the definition of the Second Amendment that is more rational, logical and takes on the NRA.”
When asked by an audience member what he believes might have prevented the shooting in Isla Vista, Weiss said he had done a lot of thinking about that question and studied all the information he could find.
“A few of the facts really stand out,” he said. “One is that law enforcement was aware of this killer and had several contacts with him over the course of the preceding year. The parents of the killer called the sheriff’s office and asked for a wellness check, which was done. It took about 15 minutes.”
Weiss said the wellness check completed by the sheriff’s office was “poorly done.”
“They never asked the killer if he had a gun, they never walked out to their squad car to run his name to see if he had a gun. That information could have been very valuable. When their therapist and their parents are calling the sheriff’s office and the sheriff’s office does a 15-minute cursory review and walks away, I don’t know what to add to that. It was a massive failure.”
Williams said the ability of one-third of the legislature to block any form of taxation prevents those working to prevent gun violence from coming up with new solutions.
“One-third of the legislature blocks all forms of taxation, including ones that could make us safer, including ones that could provide revenue that is otherwise unavailable to make basic improvements in either our data basing, our investigations, our law enforcement,” Williams said. “I can tell you that most of our communities do not have adequate funding for law enforcement, and a tax on ammunition to fund that sort of investigation is a great idea and one that I would support.”
Sen. Jackson added that there is “no political will” in California to pass legislation that would limit firearms.
“We can’t get a two-thirds vote on almost any tax, and, frankly, there is not a single Republican vote I can think of in the legislature that would support any implementation of any limitations on firearms and certainly not imposing a tax.” Jackson said. “That’s double negative for the Republican party, a tax and then doing anything to challenge the gun lobby.”
Jackson said she was proud to co-author Assembly Bill 1014 (AB 1014) with Williams, legislation that would allow firearms to be temporarily removed from individuals who are at risk of committing acts of violence.
“The measure would allow family members, when they know that their loved ones are in distress, to be able to contact the police to get restraining orders that would remove any access to firearms that they might have,” Jackson said.
According to Jackson, the effectiveness of AB 1014 depends on databases which deal with the registration of guns and prohibited persons: people who are under restraining orders, have mental illness issues or have committed crimes for which they are prohibited from owning a firearms.
“Part of the problem is that we do not have the resources for these databases,” Jackson said. “The ability to get those databases up and running effectively has been significantly limited over the course of the years, and we need to reinvest in those things so that the police have greater confidence when they go to do a wellness check, when they go to check if someone is a prohibited person, that those databases are complete, they’re accurate and they’re up to date.”
Wellen said Santa Barbarans cannot forget that there has been more than one mass shooting in the area in recent years, recalling a woman who killed six people at the post office in Goleta in 2006.
“That woman was found to be mentally unstable, and she was under involuntary hold and unable to purchase a gun in California, but she went to New Mexico where no questions were asked and she came back here and she killed six people,” Wellen said. “We must always remember that we have had more than one mass shooting in our community, so we are all touched by gun violence.”
Greenwald said that while he admires the Santa Barbara legislators for having the “brains and guts and the mindset” to work toward a solution, it will take more than just strong legislation to stop gun violence.
“We must look at it for what it is, it’s a public health crisis and the way public health crises are solved and fixed and handled are from a multiple of ways,” Greenwald said. “Laws are there, you need a variety of laws, there are many different situations, and fundamentally, fundamentally we have to say these are weapons that kill, and they should not be so easily available to everyone.”
“We must always remember that we have had more than one mass shooting in our community, so we are all touched by gun violence.” – Toni Wellen
Mayor Schneider said gun violence in the U.S. has become so common that Americans are “desensitized” to it.
“We are the only country in the world really who has this kind of senseless kind of gun violence—you don’t see this in other countries,” Schneider said. “There were 330 [mass shootings] in 2015. I mean, there were 35 days in that year that didn’t have a mass shooting. That’s it. We turn on the radio or you watch the news and you hear about something that happened somewhere in the country and it was just another one, it feels like.”
Jackson said it is critically important, when discussing the issue of guns in America, to address the culture of violence in society today.
“If you take a look at the games that our kids are playing, it is absolutely horrifying,” Jackson said. “The problem is that young people today are playing these violent games, the movies are so graphic, so violent; the more people you can kill, the better.”
According to Jackson, if children are not taught to understand the effects of gun violence on a personal level, the number of deaths resulting from firearms in America will not change.
“We are not teaching our young people enough about compassion and empathy so that they recognize that if, in fact, someone were to die, it would devastate. If it were they that lost a sibling or a parent, what that would mean to them,” Jackson said. “In the world we live in today with the proliferation of firearms, if we don’t teach children and others what the consequences are of having those firearms, of considering or using them, we will continue to see 30,000 people a year killed by gun violence.”
Williams said the NRA does not have more resources than those working for limitations on firearms.
“Their hardcore numbers are actually pretty small, but they mobilize on the issue, they vote on the issue, they give pro-gun politicians money, they make phone calls,” Williams said. “The majority of people are with us on these issues, but there have been no consequences on it, because those who are on our side on this do not mobilize on the issue.”
Greenwald said his hope for the film is that, over time, people will understand gun violence as a public health crisis driven by profit and greed and that they will take action.
“[The film] is not about the second amendment; you may have noticed we never mentioned it in the film,” Greenwald said. “Give people a different way to talk about something, and from that it becomes action, and from that it becomes change, and from that we have great elected officials that carry the call and make it happen.”
“We are the only country in the world really who has this kind of senseless kind of gun violence; you don’t see this in other countries.” – Helene Schneider
Williams said it was difficult, as a parent, to watch the individuals in the film speak about the loss of their children.
“To have them be willing to retraumatize themselves in the interest of having other people fall victim to guns … I think we should give Bob, and I think all the parents in the film, some thanks, because it takes a lot of courage and love to do that,” Williams said.
Although Weiss is driven by a desire to prevent others from losing their loved ones, like many other people affected by gun violence, his main motivation is to honor his daughter’s life.
“She gave her life up for this movement. She didn’t know it at the time, but she gave up her life for this,” Weiss said. “I honor her by proceeding to try to keep the message out there and try to make some progress.”
Weiss said it gets easier over time to share his story, but there are still days when the pain is too great.
“There might be a week or two when I just can’t deal with it, I can’t think about it. I have meetings or engagements that I cancel because I can’t do it,” Weiss said. “But, in general, it gets easier, and it is my life now. It’s my career now, and every time I do something, I feel like I honor my daughter’s life.”