Prevent Gun Violence in the Home by Getting the Word Out Through the Schools

Prevent Gun Violence in the Home by Getting the Word Out Through the Schools

For the last year, we have been focused on keeping our children and families safe from the coronavirus. What about the other epidemic that has been with us far longer and continues to harm those we love? The epidemic of gun violence.

This February marks the third anniversary of the massacre in Parkland, Florida, that ended the lives of 17 students and staff members. Since then, mass shootings and urban gun violence continue to take a deadly toll on victims young and old. In addition, suicide by gun, unintentional shootings and domestic violence are rising.

About seven percent of American children (4.6 million) live in households with at least one loaded, unlocked gun. Watch the video “Best Unbox Ever With Cayden” to see just how close disaster can be when guns and children are in the same building.

Responsible gun owners who keep their firearms locked and unloaded, with ammunition stored separately, can prevent access to guns and save lives.

The school districts have gotten the message

In November 2019, California’s State Superintendent of Education Tony Thurmond sent a letter to all California district superintendents. He asked them to inform families in their districts about parents’ responsibility to keep guns locked and ammunition stored separately. Superintendent Thurmond emphasized that “it is a crime for a person to negligently store or leave a loaded firearm in a place where a child is likely to access it.”

We expect Superintendent Thurmond to renew this urgent request soon, especially with the explosion of gun sales in the months of the COVID crisis. As measured by background checks, firearm sales in states like California doubled in 2020. Forty percent of purchases are by first-time owners who may not have the experience and training to store their guns safely.

Every day in the U.S., one child dies from unintentional shootings and two die by suicide. Research also shows that in the case of shootings on school grounds, almost 80 percent of the shooters easily obtained their weapons because guns were unsecured in the homes of their families or friends.

What can you do? Plenty! You’re the PTA.

All parents of students can reach out to their district superintendents and school board members asking that families be notified yearly about the responsibility of safe storage. California state law requires that you safely store all firearms in your home, preferably unloaded and in a locked container, separate from ammunition.  In San Diego County, the leaders in this initiative have been San Diego Unified and Poway Unified School Districts. Our goal is to get all districts in our county and state to share this vital safety information every year.

As a PTA leader or member, you have an important voice. That’s why we urge you and your organization to use this power by asking your district leaders to notify families about keeping our children safe by storing firearms securely.

Find out more about the National PTA recommendations for ending gun violence, including the importance of safe storage of firearms. And read Everytown’s guide, “Unload, Lock, and Separate: Secure Storage Practices to Reduce Gun Violence.”

Lori VanOrden is a volunteer with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention.

Eight Years On — Remembering Sandy Hook

Eight Years On — Remembering Sandy Hook

It has been eight years of ongoing gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Thanks to the efforts of volunteers like you who have worked to prevent gun violence, the intervening years have brought small changes in gun laws here and there around the nation.

But not enough changes to avert the loss of about a quarter-million more victims since December 2012.

Our 2020 vigil

The best thing you can say about the coronavirus pandemic is that, with in-person learning suspended almost everywhere since mid-March, the number of school shootings in America has fallen sharply.

Undeterred by the pandemic, we at SD4GVP conducted our annual vigil for the 26 victims — 20 children and 6 adults — of Sandy Hook. In a vigil that was virtual this year, each of us lit a candle of remembrance and took a photo that our own Carol and Ron compiled into this video:

Grieving gun violence – A prayer

We rang a bell for the victims of Sandy Hook, and for the names of our own friends and family members affected by gun violence. Vicki read “Grieving Gun Violence,” a prayer written by Reverend Keith Kron of the national Unitarian Universalist organization:

Then, as we do every December, we’re getting back out and will continue working for laws that keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them.

We invite you to join us.

John White is a volunteer with San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention.

Ghost guns — No serial number means no background check

Ghost guns — No serial number means no background check

Everything we’ve been working on in California for the last 30 years in gun violence prevention is being undermined by ghost guns.

People who know me know that I’m not usually given to dramatic statements like that. But I’ve had my eye on ghost guns for years, ever since I was in law enforcement. Now, the Glendale, California, office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) says that ghost guns make up 30 percent of its confiscated firearms. Its Los Angeles field office says that they make up 41 percent.

That’s why ghost guns have gone from a blip on my radar screen to the kind of thing that keeps me up at night.

What is a ghost gun? Why is it dangerous?

A ghost gun is an untraceable, unserialized firearm made from a kit.

At the heart of most such kits is an unfinished part known as an “80% receiver,” “80% finished,” “receiver blank,” “80% complete” or “unfinished receiver.” (Note that ATF does not use or endorse the terms I’m using here to describe ghost guns.) A ghost gun is made from that unfinished part, which doesn’t meet the definition of “firearm frame” or “receiver” found in the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. So, among other things, it does not require a serial number, the way a finished part does.

A ghost gun starts out as components that, with readily available tools and minimal mechanical expertise, people can take from that 80 percent to 100 percent. They then have a lethal weapon without a serial number.

A ghost gun is dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • It’s doesn’t have a serial number.
  • Without a serial number, it cannot be traced when it is used in a crime.
  • It can be easily sold online.
  • Purchasing such a kit doesn’t require a background check, so the people we had in mind when we worked for background-check laws can obtain one.

The marketplace realities of ghost guns are also dangerous. For one thing, a ghost gun kit for a Polymer80 Glock pistol can cost only two-thirds as much as an equivalent, finished, serialized Glock, removing an important barrier to purchase.

For another, the trade in ghost guns effectively pushes out regulated firearm dealers who, by and large, regulate themselves and one another. When those dealers follow the rules, it helps the cause of gun violence prevention. Ghost guns are a way around those rules and around that legitimate sales channel.

What can we do about ghost guns?

Ghost guns are the logical result of a loophole in the law that specifies what does and what does not require a serial number. An unfinished receiver rides straight through that loophole onto somebody’s workbench, then into the hand of a gun owner. For more background, have a look at my presentation, “Ghost Guns — What Are They and Why Should You Care?

In California, the ghost gun trend started as a way to end-run California’s sensible gun laws, particularly the laws on assault weapons. Although California is normally in the vanguard of gun legislation, other states are making admirable progress we need to catch up to:

California’s governor and attorney general have a leadership role to play in dealing with the scourge of ghost guns.

If they don’t play it, then we’ll have to pressure our legislators to play it.


Steve Lindley is the Program Manager for Brady United in California and a 27-year law enforcement veteran.  Before joining Brady, he worked at the California Department of Justice where he served as chief of the Bureau of Firearms and oversaw the Division of Law Enforcement.  He has testified in over 80 firearm-related legislative hearings, collaborated on more than 100 firearm-related bills, and assisted in authoring and implementing California’s landmark Ammunition Background check initiative.  Steve started his career with the National City Police Department.

photo credit: Steve Lindley

GOTV 4 GVP — Getting Out the Vote for Gun Violence Prevention!

GOTV 4 GVP — Getting Out the Vote for Gun Violence Prevention!

What if you opened your ballot this autumn and saw this question:

Shall we eliminate gun violence in America?   □ Yes □ No

For most of us, it would be easy to vote in favor of that, wouldn’t it?

It’s a nice piece of wishful thinking, but things probably won’t go that way.

Occasionally, gun violence prevention (GVP) efforts result in high-profile ballot measures, like California’s Proposition 63, passed in 2016. Prop 63 prohibited the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and required certain individuals to pass a background check in order to purchase ammunition. Washington’s Initiative 1639 also passed in 2016; it raised the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, added background checks and increased waiting periods.

It’s a drag about all the lawsuits that follow. But they’re part of the long haul we’ve signed up for.

Small electoral steps toward gun violence prevention

Still, our voices are making a difference, as they did in the Virginia legislative election in 2019. There was nothing on the ballot as cut-and-dry as “Shall we eliminate gun violence in Virginia?” However, there were other measures (and people) on the ballot that led to electoral victories. As a result, Virginia’s governor and lawmakers have been equipped to pass meaningful, common-sense legislation designed to prevent gun violence.

In fact, where GVP meets the ballot, the most common steps are small ones. That’s why we work to elect GVP-minded judges, city councilmembers, county supervisors, state representatives and even school board members. Gun violence prevention candidates show they will lead with gun safety in mind, whether at the top of the ballot or the bottom.

For that matter, in a year like this, we encourage you to look even deeper than the ballot.

The problem of voting access

We like the Voting Access Saves Lives campaign that our member organization Brady United has kicked off with two youth groups: Team ENOUGH and March for Our Lives. If the way to end gun violence is through votes, then this campaign goes a level deeper: to voting access. For everybody.

As they point out, if you are Black in America, you are 10 times more likely to be the victim of a gun homicide than a white person. Yet an estimated 1 out of every 13 Black Americans cannot vote due to a past conviction — four times the rate of other Americans.

Lengthy polling lines and wait times are most likely to happen in Black and Brown communities. Data shows that voters in majority-Black neighborhoods are more likely to wait longer than those in majority-white neighborhoods. A 2019 study based on smartphone data found that residents of entirely Black neighborhoods waited 29% longer to vote. They were 74% more likely to spend more than 30 minutes at their polling place. And in Arizona’s 2016 primary election, poll closures disproportionately impacted the city’s Latinx population, resulting in almost double the time waiting to vote.

The problem of human nature

Then, there’s that vexing human factor.

“Why doesn’t EVERYbody vote?!” you ask in despair, pulling your hair and worrying about the near future.

For a solid century the League of Women Voters has been guided by that question. More than thinking about it, they’ve been doing something about it. We like the list they’ve published with 100 ways to get ready for election day. Among them:

5. Learn about early and mail-in voting opportunities in your state.

10. Find out who’s funding the candidates running for office on your ballot. (FollowTheMoney.orgis a good resource for this.)

16. Check if you need an ID to vote. Some states require it.

38. Check in with a young person in your life. Are they registered? Do they need help voting?

66. Join the People Powered Fair MapsTMcampaign as a volunteer to stop gerrymandering.

76. Demand action from Congress to protect the 2020 election. Call your Senators today at 1-888-415-4527 to ask them to include $4 billion in funding to secure our elections in the next stimulus package (or fill out our contact form).

The vote: Use it or lose it

Again, with the power of the vote we can change gun laws. Just know that it will take you more than checking a “Yes” box on one ballot.

It’s a long road to get the kind of gun laws you want by voting. Meanwhile, keep in mind the words of the late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA):

“Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful non-violent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

John White is a volunteer with SD4GVP.


Open Carry in a Time of Protest and Unrest

Open Carry in a Time of Protest and Unrest

Last weekend, civil unrest erupted during initially peaceful protests in La Mesa, California. A number of businesses were looted and two banks were burned to the ground.

Reports have circulated in social media and in the Times of San Diego about some citizens, understandably worried about the unrest, choosing to undertake their own flavor of community defense. They are making the case for carrying firearms as they move about their cities and neighborhoods.

To some, it looks just like the moment they bought their guns for.

To others — including us — it looks like an excuse to openly carry firearms and probably make the worst of a bad situation.

Laws against openly carrying firearms (“open carry”) in California

Our colleagues at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence summarize open carry laws as follows:

California law generally prohibits people from carrying a loaded firearm (open or concealed) on their person or in a motor vehicle in the following locations:

  • In any public place or on any public street in an incorporated city, or
  • In any public place or on any public street in unincorporated territory if it is unlawful to discharge a weapon in that location (Cal. Penal Code §§ 17030, 25850(a)).

This prohibition is subject to certain exceptions, including those for:

  • A concealed weapons licensee who is carrying a loaded handgun (Cal. Penal Code § 26010);
  • A person who has been granted a license to carry a loaded and exposed handgun if he or she is in the county that granted the license (Cal. Penal Code §§ 26150, 26155); or
  • A person who reasonably believes that his or her person or property or the person or property of another is in immediate, grave danger and that the carrying of the weapon is necessary for the preservation of that person or property. “Immediate” means the brief interval before and after the local law enforcement agency, when reasonably possible, has been notified of the danger and before the arrival of its assistance (Cal. Penal Code § 26030).

Additionally, under PC 417, California law prohibits people from brandishing a loaded or unloaded firearm, except in self-defense. A person commits a misdemeanor when he/she:

  • in the presence of any other person;
  • draws or exhibits a firearm;
  • in a rude, angry, or threatening manner (Cal. Penal Code § 26045).

To be convicted of this crime, the gun brandisher does not need to point the gun; he/she can merely lift a shirt to expose a firearm. The law is designed to discourage anyone from quarreling or threatening another person with a weapon capable of causing serious injury or death.

Law enforcement does not want civilian help

To repeat: California generally bans the open carrying of handguns and long guns.

The idea of ordinary citizens walking or driving around with firearms as a way of “helping” law enforcement agencies and deterring looters is not a good one.

And we’re not the only ones who believe that. In 2016, the police chief of Dallas, Texas, conducted a news conference following a mass shooting. “[I]t’s increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over their shoulder and they’re in a crowd,” he said. “We don’t know who the good guy is versus the bad guy when everyone starts shooting.”

Besides, with Sheriff Gore’s requested deployment of the California National Guard to San Diego, there will be no shortage of violence-deterring firearms in town for the immediate future. The more guns there are, the more likely at least one of them will go off as tension mounts.

Two vigilantes recently posted video to social media claiming that their group has the backing of law enforcement for activity in Santee. The Sheriff’s Department said that it knew of the claims but that “nothing could be further from the truth.” And the mayor of La Mesa, Mark Arapostathis, has reacted to the Facebook-based La Mesa Civil Defense group by making it clear that “the city of La Mesa doesn’t support vigilantes at all.”

We have no disagreement with law-abiding citizens who store their firearms safely and use them responsibly.

But it doesn’t sound as though that’s what’s going on here.

John White is a volunteer with SD4GVP.

Photo credit: Lorie Shaull

Sustainable Development and Gun Violence Prevention

Sustainable Development and Gun Violence Prevention

The globally agreed-upon Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations Association (UNA) are a powerful synergistic agenda addressing the root causes of violence. They emphasize the need to reduce inequalities, promote health and well-being, reduce poverty and hunger, advance gender equality and build strong institutions.

Gun violence in the United States has become widespread, killing and injuring more than 1.2 million U.S. citizens between 2010 and 2020. There is no single way to address this violence, because it is a multi-source, cross-cutting issue.

The San Diego chapter of UNA is a member of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention (SD4GVP), a coalition of concerned citizens united to end gun violence in America. In this on-demand webcast, coalition board members Carol Landale and Ron Marcus discuss how local actions reduce gun violence within the larger context of achieving sustainable and inclusive communities.

They also stress that the key to preventing gun violence in America is to get out the vote for leaders who will fight for it. In the current climate, that includes promoting mail-in ballots.