Tipping Point: The Weathervane in the Classroom

Tipping Point: The Weathervane in the Classroom

“The last couple of years have been a hot mess.”

True words spoken by a 16-year-old student a short time ago. While some folks may not relate to this trendy term of “hot mess,” the gravity of the sentiment resonates with almost all of us.

The rough emotional environment

I am a high school teacher. Mentoring, counseling, coaching, guiding, and cheering on kiddos in the classroom have been skills I have cultivated professionally and personally for my entire career.

But only recently have I needed to truly combine my superpowers as a strong pillar of support for the teenagers around me. I have struggled this year alongside students as our society continues to navigate the upheaval of all that we have known to be true.

Because I do not teach in an environment naive to cultural influences, and because teenagers do not learn in a setting devoid of societal pressures, I often take on the role of an emotional weathervane for them. They look to me for signs of calm and potential disruptions, much like the rooftop gauge indicating the course of the wind.

Tipping towards involvement

I think of my tipping point in the context of a weathervane in a storm. Trying to track the shooting events in our country has manipulated any sense of direction, resulting in a constant state of spinning. Emotional, financial and spiritual reconciliation by way of the weathervane has been exhausting.

For me, questions of “how much?” and “how to?” related to gun violence prevention have fluctuated until recently. “How much” can I give to these efforts? What level of involvement is viable and meaningful? “How to” support gun violence prevention? What tangible activities result in consequential change?

Answers differ dramatically by individual and by circumstance, but my personal investment has lately become strong and sustainable. I will go on serving students and families by navigating the winds and facilitating difficult conversations as they arise.

I will also trust my own tracking system. While the weathervane continues to reflect impending storms, I am now learning to watch and listen for signs of change.

Debbie Loomis is the mother of two adult children. She is a former community organizer and now teaches middle and high school students in San Diego County.

photo credit: liz west

Tipping Point: Las Vegas Music Festival

Tipping Point: Las Vegas Music Festival

When I look back, ever since I was a teenager, the effort to prevent gun violence has touched me.

Meeting Jim Brady

I was a Maryland high school student interested in journalism, Washington politics and the press. I remember when the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan left his White House Press Secretary Jim Brady paralyzed from a gunshot wound.

Mr. Brady made it his life’s work to campaign for stronger gun violence prevention laws like background checks. I was lucky enough to meet him at a journalism conference and hear his passionate dedication to the effort. It planted a seed with me that we can make a difference and save lives.

One music festival away from a massacre

My tipping point came much later. As an avid music festival fan, I attend at least three music festivals a year. I love big crowds and the energy of the music!

I was in Las Vegas at the Life is Beautiful Festival in 2017. The following weekend – seven short days later –the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival just down the strip resulted in 58 fatalities and 500 wounded. The horrific images of the crowd of music lovers being shot and killed rocked me to my core.

As details emerged, I learned that the gunman had first considered striking the festival I attended. That meant that I could have been one of the innocent people caught up in that massacre.

“It could have been me,” I told myself – and have continued telling myself ever since. In 2017, I had a really hard time processing the tragedy of that mass shooting, and I am still sad, shocked and scared that it came so close to me.

Time to do something

I couldn’t just be upset and sit idle anymore, so I’ve looked for a way to participate. I joined SD4GVP and have learned a lot about the issues, the facts, the initiatives and ways to get involved.

At my first event, I attended a gun buyback event and handed out information on safe gun storage to people who were selling their firearms. I was surprised at how open people can be to talking about guns and safety in our communities.

This year, I marched in the San Diego Pride parade and staffed the SD4GVP booth at the Pride Festival. The day restored my faith that we can make progress one conversation at a time by listening, learning, sharing and advocating.

Change can be a frustratingly slow process, but I feel better knowing I can be part of making a difference.

Michelle Makowski is a volunteer with SD4GVP. She works on community events and internship coordination.

Tipping Point: Sandy Hook

Tipping Point: Sandy Hook

It was December 14, 2012. I had just gotten off work and was settling into my car to go home. I started the engine. The radio, set to NPR, came on.

I’ll never forget that moment. Robert Siegel was reporting on the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The shock I felt in that instant, and subsequent stupor, were comparable only to what I felt on 9/11/2001.

From apathy to activism

I call this my tipping point moment – the moment I was kicked, in the butt, out of apathy and into social action.

I had been blissfully apathetic about the issue of gun violence before. No longer. I quickly joined the local (San Diego) chapter of the Brady campaign, as did several others (still my friends to this day). Soon I was serving on the chapter board.

Fast forward a few years. Local chapters of Moms Demand Action had sprung up in the San Diego region. Some of their members started joining us at our meetings too. We were doing a lot of the same work on the ground, often duplicating efforts. Until one day, when several of us had the idea to form a gun violence prevention coalition, bringing together members of other organizations and independent citizens united in one purpose: END GUN VIOLENCE.

A coalition is born

Thus, San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention (SD4GVP) was born. We celebrated our launch on February 27, 2018, and incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization later that year. I became president and part of an executive leadership team of eight, managing a group with some 50 or so active volunteers, and thousands on our email list.

In the few years we’ve been a formal coalition, we’ve made a lot of progress.

• SD4GVP has become the go-to resource for the media whenever legislation is pending or a mass shooting has occurred (which is far too often).

• We’ve gotten out the vote in local elections for candidates who support sensible gun violence prevention policy, and worked very closely with local, state, and federal officials – mayors, city council members, county supervisors, congresspeople – to achieve meaningful policy change.

• We’ve helped local municipalities pass anti-ghost gun ordinances, and supported our City Attorney in championing gun violence restraining orders (a.k.a. red flag laws) that have become a model for the state and the nation.

• We’ve conducted extensive community outreach at public events, in neighborhoods where violence is prevalent and in schools.

• We’ve invested heavily in supporting intervention strategies to remove the conditions that lead to violence before it occurs.

I’ve found my niche. You can, too.

My own role, which is very gratifying, is to be a public relations spokesperson for the group. I am routinely interviewed by the local media about our stance on gun violence prevention and the unrelenting trend of shooting deaths in this country.

I am so proud to belong to this group of highly talented, competent, professional and committed individuals who tirelessly press on — in spite of a federal legislature that refuses to advance meaningful gun reform.

Every. Single. Day. This coalition is making a difference.

Ron Marcus is president of SD4GVP.

photo credit: Valley Independent Sentinel, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (unchanged)

How to Obtain a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO)

How to Obtain a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO)

First things first:

Afraid someone you know or love will harm themselves or others with a gun? In California, a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) can protect you and the ones you love.

If you know of anyone who poses an immediate danger of gun injury to themselves or to others, call 911. A trained officer will investigate immediately and, if warranted, can petition a judge to obtain an emergency GVRO at any time of the day or night. The emergency GVRO allows the officer to take away any firearms or ammunition the person possesses or has access to and prohibits them from acquiring any more until there is a court hearing. Emergency GVROs have prevented many suicides and saved the lives of many people threatened by boyfriends, ex-spouses, co-workers, classmates and others.

In almost every instance of a mass shooting, the shooter told someone of their intentions. California’s GVRO law is based on a well-established principle: You can always give back a gun, but you cannot give back a life.

“I wish we could have gotten the guns out of their control before somebody got hurt.”

People around this country, this state and even this city find themselves saying that all the time.

They say it because of “family fire,” the accidental shootings with a misused or improperly stored gun in the home that injure or kill 8 children and teens a day.

They say it because of domestic violence, as 52 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner in an average month.

They say it because of suicide incidents, 51 percent of which are by firearm.

They say it because they hear a co-worker or fellow student make a threat.

In 17 states and the District of Columbia, citizens have said “ENOUGH!” to wishing they had had the guns removed before somebody got hurt. They have passed Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws, or “red flag” laws, which we call Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) laws in California.

A GVRO is a civil court order that temporarily prevents someone from possessing, accessing or purchasing firearms and ammunition when the person is at risk of attempting suicide or harming others. Because a GVRO is a civil procedure, the person from whom the firearms are temporarily removed will not have a criminal record — unless they violate the judge’s order.

Often, family members do not know how to go about removing the guns or are afraid to do so, particularly if the person has dementia or PTSD, or is experiencing depression or a temporary mental health crisis. When family or co-workers inform the police of their fear of an immediate threat, a GVRO allows the San Diego Police Department to remove firearms temporarily, when warranted. A GVRO provides an opportunity to get care for the person at risk (known as the “respondent”) and takes away the fear that possession of the gun could lead to serious injury or death.

Who can request a gun violence restraining order?

Law enforcement, family and household members can request a GVRO in San Diego. That includes spouses, parents, grandparents, children, stepparents, stepchildren, domestic partners, siblings, and roommates and persons who have regularly resided in the last six months on the same property as the respondent.

I am a family or household member. How do I request a GVRO?

1. If you are afraid and you believe that somebody in your family or household poses an immediate danger of injury from firearms to themselves, to you or to others, call 911. A police officer can obtain an Emergency GVRO 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The GVRO empowers the officer to remove the guns and ammunition.

2. If you live in the city of San Diego and there is no immediate danger of injury, call the SDPD at 619-531-2000. A police officer can obtain a Temporary GVRO at any time of the day or night.

3. Go to a local police station and ask for assistance in obtaining a GVRO.

Do I have to go through the police to get a GVRO? Are there other ways?

There are other ways to request a GVRO, such as with the help of an attorney. In San Diego, however, there are advantages to working with law enforcement officers:

1. They are experts in handling dangerous situations and people with firearms; private citizens are not. Once a petition for a Temporary GVRO is granted, it must be served on the respondent. When police officers serve the order, they immediately seize all firearms and ammunition. But when the order is served by a private citizen, the respondent has 24 hours to comply, either by taking his guns and ammunition to the police or by storing them with a gun dealer and providing proof to the court. A lot can happen in those 24 hours, including an attack on the threatened party or the stashing of guns with friends for later use.

2. Evidence that will hold up in court is very important. Police officers know how to gather evidence that the respondent is a threat to him-/herself or others. Most private citizens do not have that expertise.

3. Working through the San Diego Police Department is free; hiring a private attorney is not.

After the respondent is served and the firearms are removed, what happens?

In San Diego, the initial GVRO lasts 21 days, during which time a hearing occurs. If the respondent wishes to contest the order, he or she must attend. At the hearing, the judge will hear evidence about whether the possession of guns by the respondent poses a danger to him-/herself or others, and decide whether to continue or cancel the temporary order. If the judge decides to continue the temporary order, the GVRO will last up to one year.

Are GVROs “No Contact” orders?

No, GVROs do not prevent the respondent from having contact with you, your children, your family members or others who live with you. And they can’t force the respondent to move out of your home. For more information about other types of restraining orders, including those for domestic violence, civil harassment, elder or dependent adult abuse and workplace violence, visit: www.courts.ca.gov/1260.htm.

Where can I get more information on obtaining a GVRO?

Visit Speak for Safety. You’ll find an entire website for the kinds of people who ask questions about having guns removed before somebody gets hurt or killed:

  • Family and household
  • Health care providers
  • Veterans
  • Eldercare providers
  • Fiduciaries
  • Public health
  • Attorneys
  • Law enforcement

GVRO laws are relatively recent in California, and not everyone knows how they work. If you need help from somebody unfamiliar with GVROs, direct them to Speak for Safety for more information.

Do GVROs really work?

Yes. In 2019 alone, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, with significant support from the San Diego Police Department, obtained GVROs against 200 individuals who posed a threat to themselves or others.

Obtaining a GVRO requires effort and, in some cases, courage.

But it can mean the difference between “I wish we could have gotten the guns out of their control before somebody got hurt” and “I’m so glad we got the guns out of their control before somebody got hurt.”

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

Photo credit: Lisa Roe