Gun-violence prevention and leadership

Gun-violence prevention and leadership

At a recent fundraising event for SD4GVP, Wendy Wheatcroft, one of the coalition’s founders, offered her perspective on leadership.

It is surreal to stand up here and witness our success. It is humbling to continue to be a part of it. It is hard to find words that I have not said a million times before, but I will try.

Like many of you, I have survived gun violence. Four times. Oddly, though, I never realized I was a gun-violence survivor until I started doing this work. Most people do not realize they are survivors because gun violence has been so normalized. And it does feel like a million years have passed since I jumped onto this journey with all of you. If someone had told me about us and all of this five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed you. I was supposed to retire someday as a teacher, but this goes to show how there are plans for us that we can’t even imagine.

Instead of sharing the usual sad vignettes and statistics, I thought that I would speak today about leadership. I always knew I could lead and wrangle a roomful of children, but I never envisioned myself leading adults. However, I am fortunate that I have never had to lead alone. Often I receive credit — and also the blame — for things that I do not do, like shutting down the Del Mar gun show or spray-painting a prominent Republican’s house. Both are things I did NOT do. My name has become associated, truly or falsely, with acts of gun-violence prevention. But we all know that one person alone could not do everything we do. All of us are leaders.

Putting down our armor

We can be armored leaders or unarmored. Brené Brown asks, “How do we put down the armor, and how do we inspire our teams to do the same?” The idea of putting down our armor to do this work is both symbolic and ironic. We are leading people into battle against an insanely armored, and armed, contingent.

I have seen each of you come into your first meeting, shy and quiet, as I too did at one time. And I have seen you become vulnerable, put yourself out there and share your gifts to contribute to this cause and to our coalition. I could go through each person in this room and find a poignant example of you laying down your armor.

We practice gratitude and we celebrate milestones and victories. We also mourn quite often. In laughing and crying together, we have created a bond that is difficult to understand from the outside. Through this work, we have found a bonus family.

We have created an alternative to numbing ourselves. In the past few years, without this group as an outlet for the pain and strife, we could have numbed ourselves through unhealthy means or, worse yet, become complacent and checked out. Instead, the majority of us have checked in. We show up and we work hard. I don’t know about you, but this work has kept me sane in very insane times. When we show up, we show up for one another.

We operate from a place of integration, not fear.

People sometimes assume that we do this because we are afraid of guns. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We are grounded in confidence, information and facts that prove we are on the right side of this issue — the side that responsible gun owners are starting to embrace with us. WITH US. We remain vulnerable and open, but strong and courageous. We are not afraid.

It would be very easy for us to become negative and cynical, and lose hope. This issue breaks our hearts every single day. We know the solutions, and it can be frustrating to get there, but together, we know how to keep pushing toward our common goal: to end gun violence.

Theodore Roosevelt said we can credit the person “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes up short again and again, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if she fails, at least fails while daring greatly.” The credit goes to those in the arena, all of us.

When you have done something that no one else has done before, like build a coalition to prevent gun violence, the value is hard to quantify. Moms Demand Action likens it to building the plane as you are flying it.

So let’s keep building that plane. I know that together, someday, we will get to land it.

Wendy Wheatcroft is a mom of three, an educator and a gun-violence prevention advocate working to end gun violence in all of its forms.

photo credit: mathiaswasik  CC BY-SA 2.0

What Does an Unstable NRA Really Mean for Gun Violence Prevention?

What Does an Unstable NRA Really Mean for Gun Violence Prevention?

With the political maelstrom that will be 2020 just two short months away, Americans on both sides of the gun control debate are tuning in to see what new ideas President Trump’s Democratic challengers will bring to the table. As deaths from gun violence continue to increase year over year, a cornered Trump has once again allowed the public eye to shift away from the need for stricter gun laws.

Despite the promises made after shootings in Ohio and Texas, Trump is clearly not prepared to risk the support he receives from gun owners and specifically from the National Rifle Association. The 5-million-strong, pro-gun organization has become a lodestone for anti-gun vitriol, but it has operated with impunity thanks to the hundreds of millions of dollars in membership fees that it collects every year.

But the money isn’t coming in quite so fast these days.

There is unrest in the ranks of the NRA. Allegations of unscrupulous spending by NRA chairman Wayne LaPierre and members of the organization’s 76-member board have provoked anger from some of its members:

  • Gun-rights activist and millionaire David Dell’aquila of Kentucky is fed up with the misuse of member funding to pay for NRA top brass to live lavishly. He has mobilized dissent among his wealthy fellow members and claims he has commitments from them to withhold nearly $165 million in future giving to the NRA.
  • NRA supporter and retired NBA star Karl Malone has gone on record with his discontent. Citing the $400,000 board members were paid for public outreach and firearms training along with other questionable expenses, Malone says that members should be “damn concerned.”
  • Former Oklahoma Congressman Dan Boren resigned from his position on the NRA’s board in November citing mounting internal troubles. Boren’s resignation was predated by three board members leaving in August after they came under investigation for activities related to the misuse of funds and the resignation of the organization’s president Oliver North.

For gun control advocates, seeing the NRA spring leaks like the rowboat in an old-time cartoon might seem like cause for celebration. However, to conflate the NRA’s necrosis with progress for better gun control would be short-sighted.

It is conceivable that a healthy NRA could, in fact, be a much more positive force for change than a fractured one.

Wait, what?

For most of its existence, the NRA has been a supporter of sensible gun safety policy. It is only recently that the NRA’s Political Action Committee (PAC) has emerged as a domineering force for conservative politicians. As a result, the NRA as a whole has come to be associated with the posture that “all gun policy is bad gun policy.”

That oversimplified, polarizing point of view has made space for the most conservative members of the Republican voting base. But the NRA’s recent troubles have caused membership to decline. Those of us who are worried about the high number of guns in this country may cheer those falling numbers.

However, we shouldn’t assume that ex-members are going to destroy their firearms and promptly join our ranks.

We should be worried about whatever fills the vacuum left by a hobbled NRA.

What’s going to happen when ex-members gravitate to groups that assert gun rights even more aggressively than the NRA currently does?

  • Dell’aquila, mentioned above, wrote to the NRA board in July, “I have told NRA directors that I can be one of the NRA’s biggest advocates or worse nightmare, and Mr. LaPierre and his leadership team have chosen the latter.”
  • Gun Owners of America condemned the ban on bump stocks as “a gross infringement of Second Amendment rights” and has actively promoted arming teachers.
  • The National Association for Gun Rights, currently 4.5 million members strong, recently bestowed its .50 Caliber Freedom Award to Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin for passing a concealed-carry law.

Those people, their organizations and others like them participate in the same political fundraising and lobbying that the NRA does. Each of them would be more than happy to wield the same clout with politicians from Main Street to Pennsylvania Avenue.

Should the NRA crumble, it won’t mean the end of the gun lobby. In fact, it will probably eliminate whatever useful role the NRA could (and used to) play in upholding ethical gun policy.

There are still meaningful numbers of NRA members who believe in sensible gun laws. No single group other than the NRA has the potential to set an example for gun owners who need a community to join. That is why NRA members need to take action and reform their association before it implodes.

Rather than risk handing the reins over to extremist organizations, the middle-of-the-road gun owners who understand reasonable gun laws and make up much of NRA membership must use this opportunity to regain control of their spiraling society. That would be a far better way to promote the goal of preventing gun violence — a goal the NRA claims to support even now.

Chris Bono is a concerned San Diegan and a cybersecurity professional with over ten years of experience writing about technology, politics, exercise and nutrition, and automobiles.

photo credit: Eli Christman

A Day at the Crossroads Gun Show in Del Mar

A Day at the Crossroads Gun Show in Del Mar

Above, Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA50) addresses opponents of the gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.


The Crossroads of the West Gun Show made its return to San Diego’s Del Mar Fairgrounds after a U.S. District Court judge issued an injunction allowing the show to continue while an all-out suspension is considered.

Gun shows are controversial to many because of the less-regulated manner in which they make guns and ammo available. The Southern California cities of Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach have teamed up with activist groups like Never Again California to call for an end to the show, or to disallow further sales of weapons and ammunition at the show. Outside the show, constituents of these groups gathered en masse to protest (photo above).

“Less than ten percent” involves guns

California Rifle and Pistol Association attorney Tiffany Cheuvront recently defended the shows, calling them “a modern bazaar, with a wide assortment of food, interesting merchandise, and services available” where “less than ten percent” of the activities involved firearms or ammunition. It’s difficult to see how Cheuvront could support such a claim when guns and gun culture were so obviously at the core of the two-day event.

A group of attendees arriving at the show had gathered to discuss AB 893, Todd Gloria’s bill to prohibit the sale of firearms and ammunition at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. A speaker advised them to write the governor and express their opposition to the bill. Nearby was a small donation box with a sign demanding the recall of Governor Newsom.

It is true that numerous vendors of handmade goods, used books and politically tinged merchandise were sprinkled throughout the show. It is also true that the offerings were nearly always nods to gun advocacy and gun culture.

“A well-regulated what, now?”

Vendors were not sheepish about admitting that “straw buying”— the practice of buying ammunition intended for other people — occurs regularly at gun shows. Prop. 63, disallows the purchase of ammunition by people who have not completed a background check, and this is a workaround for non-gun-owners to buy ammo for use with weapons they don’t own. A clinic on how to build a custom, California-compliant AR-15 was another choice instance of working around the law.

At the “Freedom and Firearms” merchandise booth, the vendor explained that freedom and firearms are related because the Second Amendment says that Americans have the right to bear arms. When asked about the amendment’s mention of a well-regulated militia, she responded, “I don’t know, I’d have to check.”

Mixed in with all of the pro-gun merchandise, weaponry and ammunition were a number of Trump 2020 booths. While males dominated the attendance, there were families at the show. One boy who appeared to be five or six years old brandished an elaborate toy rifle complete with lights and simulated gunfire noises. The merchandise and messaging at the show patently targeted children and emphasized the message of teaching them early to use and carry guns.

YIMBY or NIMBY?

Standing out amid rows of glorified gun culture was the booth tended by the American Federation for Suicide Prevention, on hand to remind attendees that many people use firearms to attempt suicide. The staff at this booth reported that they received very little negative feedback from attendees.

Whether the show will continue remains up in the air for now, but it’s clear that this event is not about tasting dishes from around the world or buying books. The Crossroads of the West Gun Show is about selling guns and promoting gun culture, which is exactly what it purports to be.

But, if you’re a resident of North County San Diego, you have to ask yourself, “Is this something I’m comfortable having in my back yard?”

Carol Landale is a volunteer with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention (SD4GVP) and the San Diego chapter of Brady United. She stresses that neither organization is anti-gun, but rather that they both seek solutions to the problem of gun violence.

photo credit: Carol Landale

The Lockdown Generation

The Lockdown Generation

My son is 9. He told me he practices not crying during the drills because crying gives away your hiding spot.

— Red

The names we choose for each generation often speak to our nation’s history. After the war-winning Greatest Generation came the Baby Boomers. Then came Generations X and Y, famous for their education and use of technology. But the current generation of Centennials, Generation Z, bears a more ominous nickname: “The Lockdown Generation.”

It’s not a name that evokes hope or feelings of pride. Instead, it carries a foreboding and depressing message: We have let these young people down. The blame is on adults for not protecting them and for allowing the trauma of active shooter drills to color their life experience.

As school has resumed these past few weeks, I’ve watched my Twitter feed fill up with examples of how lockdown training and active shooter drills affect young people’s lives.

My 5 yo shut the 2 yo in the closet with him and whispered, “D, it’s a lockdown drill.  Be very quiet and squeeze close together!” He’s been in Kindergarten all of 3 weeks.

— Kacey

Even though mass shootings make up less than one percent of gun-violence incidents on K-12 campuses, our children are overwhelmed by frequent and traumatic drills and training.

Some people have pushed to harden schools or arm teachers, with no real evidence or research to support that this approach in fact improves the safety of schoolchildren. In an age when data drives education, why aren’t educators letting data drive the planning behind such emotionally wrenching drills?

My son came home believing a shooting was likely at his school. Stats say it’s not. We’re scaring them because adults are the cowards and won’t make the changes that are necessary.

– Voting Mom

Unfortunately, data is not driving this. We are causing damage to developing brains without knowing the long-term effects. And what are the chances that it will do any good? Children are more likely to be involved in a car accident on the way to school than in a school shooting, so why aren’t we making them do car accident drills?

Follow the money.

My son was 9 when I found him Googling “how to stop yourself from sneezing.” He had been struggling with allergies, so I asked if he needed medicine. He said: “Oh no thanks. This is for school. When a shooter comes, it’ll be one sneeze and you’re dead.”

– Christine

From bulletproof hoodies and backpacks to privately held active shooter training sessions, somebody has figured out how to make money off our fears and those of our children.

Entire markets are springing up to profit from these fears. The school safety industry is now valued at about $3 billion. It’s time to push back against this unethical use of fear to make money.

This AM my 9 year old asked if she should run or hide during an intruder drill if her class is outside: “If we’re in class we can’t run, but it’s ok cuz my teacher has things to pile in front of the door and she said i can hide under her desk.”

– Soccer Mom

What can you do to counteract this?

You can question school districts that implement active shooter training. You can find out when an active shooter training is scheduled and you can pull your kids out while it’s in progress. YOU ARE THE PARENT.

One day while driving in the car my daughter asked: “Mama, do we have to do lockdown drills in the car?”

— Wendy

Only you can decide what your children are exposed to. You already screen TV shows, music, movies and friends; you can also reduce your children’s exposure to needless trauma from lockdown or active shooter drills by advocating for them when drills are held.

Schools were the backdrop for gun violence long before Sandy Hook. But active shooter drills and bulletproof backpacks weren’t a thing until the violence crept into schools that could afford to pay for safety.

Nothing quite like tucking your child into bed as he tells you he’ll be the one to throw books at a stranger who comes into his classroom. He’s 6.

– Robyn

If we accept that our responsibility as a generation is to shape a world where our youth can thrive, then maybe it’s time we picked some new nicknames for older generations and left our children out of this.

The Lockdown Generation has been given a title they don’t deserve. It’s up to us to make sure it doesn’t stick.

Wendy Wheatcroft is a mom of three, educator and gun-violence prevention advocate working to end gun violence in all of its forms.

photo credit: Kat van Loon BY-ND 2.0

Don’t tell your teenagers about guns. Ask them.

Don’t tell your teenagers about guns. Ask them.

When your kids were four or five years old, discussions about guns were easier. Good guys, bad guys, yes, no… we could keep the rules simple.

“Guns are dangerous.” Period. And if the situation ever got less clear, our advice was “When in doubt, ask a grown-up.”

The conversation surrounding guns is far less simple now that the kids are in middle school, high school and college. Asking a grown-up invites a wide array of suggestions, many of which teens don’t trust, because gun violence continues to happen daily. Obviously, these grown-ups don’t have the answers, or things wouldn’t have gotten this bad. Many of these young adults feel it’s time to find their own answers.

A large and growing number of teenagers in San Diego are working to prevent gun violence through responsible gun ownership. The members of Team Enough are amazing young citizens and eager future voters. I have the privilege of working with them as they educate themselves, write letters, generate dialogue, convene forums, lobby lawmakers and occasionally protest as positive activists for their own safety.

The difference between us and them

For adults, every modification to the law feels a bit scary. Are we sacrificing any rights we’d rather not sacrifice? Our line of thought goes “The law has always been this way, so why shouldn’t it continue to be?”

But to a fresh pair of educated, 16- or 17-year-old eyes, that thinking is archaic, and it’s failing them miserably. They don’t need us to tell them about guns anymore; they’re living it. Too many teens are just a degree or two away from somebody who has completed suicide by firearm. They know that an attempted suicide with a gun is almost always a completed suicide, no matter how impulsive and fleeting the decision may be. Do you think grown-ups are the only ones who know teens can suffer from temporary insanity? Teens know it too. Why? Because they are teens and they know at least a few of their peers who are in emotional distress right now.

And they certainly don’t need adults to tell them that many of those suicidal teens, in their desire to end everything, take the lives of other teens. School shootings are no longer hard to imagine. Too many teens spend too much of their precious youth thinking about them.

Don’t take my word for it. Ask your teen.

Enter the safe storage laws

More than a dozen municipalities in California — including Los Angeles, Sacramento and Oakland — had safe storage laws by the time San Diego woke up. The San Diego City Attorney’s office championed the Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance requiring that all firearms in a residence be stored in a locked container, or disabled by a trigger lock, unless they are being carried by or are under control of the owner.

This is the modern-day equivalent of seatbelts or motorcycle helmets. Almost nobody used either one in the 1960s, and when the law started requiring them, it seemed like an insane infringement on personal rights. Now they’re normal and they’ve saved countless lives. In fact, safe-storage laws are better than motorcycle helmet laws because they save other people in addition to the owner.

That’s why the young people of Team Enough look at safe storage laws for gun owners as a no-brainer. “Why is this so hard?” they ask. “It’s not fair. Look at what we’ve just had to go through to get our driver’s license: regulations, training, testing, licensing, insurance . . . all of that. And if you mess up, you don’t get to drive. Why should it be so hard to pass a law about safely storing a gun in the home?”

Don’t tell them that it’s apples and oranges, or that it’s complicated.

Instead, ask them how frustrating and horrifying it is that the adults who have the power to make decisions to protect children from gun violence at home can’t get that together. Even when young people ask nicely for the grown-ups to make and enforce a few simple rules that they know will save lives, the grown-ups just won’t.

Tired of waiting

In short, the kids are tired of waiting for us. Every day, I hear from active young citizens about their determination to make this city, this state and eventually this country safer by making sure we all follow a few simple rules if we want to own something that can easily kill a roomful of people in a minute or two.

In June I went to Sacramento with hundreds of teens who actively lobbied their legislators on bills promoting safe, responsible gun ownership. California Lobby Day was about passing common-sense laws that everyone needs to follow to save lives. Team Enough makes sure the city, state and nation are moving in the right legislative direction on gun violence prevention. And, of course, they will vote in 2020.

So don’t tell your teens about the difficulty in passing sensible gun laws; ask them how they feel about guns becoming a part of their life whether they like it or not. Ask them about the most and least helpful lawmakers. Ask them how safe storage can reduce the risk of impulsive suicides, unfortunate accidents, gun theft and maybe even a shooting at their own school.

Most important, ask them to tell you how safe storage will make the public aware that everybody has a role to play in responsible gun ownership.

Kara Chine is the California state lead for Brady United’s Team Enough initiative. She is also the mother of two teenagers. This article is based on her public comments to the San Diego City Council’s Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on June 5, 2019.