TL;DR: Important races for county supervisors are in progress right now, with more in 2024. If gun-violence prevention is important to you, then get ready to vote!
On Tuesday, July 18, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors heard the Final Report on the Community Needs Assessment about Gun Violence Reduction in the county. The assessment, performed by the independent organization HARC in 2022-23, included an analysis of secondary data, countywide community and professional surveys. It also included listening sessions to collect the first-hand experiences and beliefs of residents, and a review of best practices identified in the research literature.
Among the report’s many findings, there were over 1,300 firearm deaths and 1,300 firearm injuries in the county over recent five-year periods. Of those deaths, 70.9% were suicides and 28.9% were homicides.
During the listening sessions conducted by HARC, people just like you and me, from all over the county, showed up, called in and commented on how gun violence affects them. They jumped at the chance – as we do – to have their voices heard by elected representatives who could finally start to fix everything that’s broken and do something about gun violence.
What two Supervisors voted against
At the Supervisors’ meeting, some of the findings and recommendations contained in the Final Report were outlined. The recommendations in the Work Plan included:
- Develop and share educational content related to safe storage of firearms, behavioral treatment access, and other suicide prevention education, focusing on the highest-risk populations.
- Partner with agencies to promote gun lock distribution programs, including offering gun locks at no cost.
- Monitor state and federal actions for opportunities to improve safe gun ownership and investment in communities most impacted by gun violence.
Those (and other) recommendations for the current fiscal year INVOLVED NO ADDITIONAL COST.
So why, when it came time for the board to vote on accepting the Final Report and adopting the Work Plan, did Supervisors Anderson (District 2) and Desmond (District 5) vote no?
Why did they vote “no?”
Had they not heard about the fatal shooting in Fallbrook the day before? A three-year-old found an unsecured handgun at home and accidentally shot their one-year-old sibling. Seems unlikely that the Supervisors had missed the news, given that the Democratic Supervisors and several people making and submitting public comments at the meeting mentioned it in tragic detail. Did Anderson and Desmond not believe it was a preventable death? Did they not see the connection between a tragedy like that and the Work Plan they were asked to vote for?
Were they not paying attention during the many public comments in support of the Work Plan, including when Elizabeth and Carlos Muñoz spoke? The Muñozes created Jr’s Trauma Care Initiative in honor of their son Juan Carlos Munoz Jr., who was murdered with a gun in San Diego County in a random act of violence. These grieving parents appeared in person to tell the Board of Supervisors how badly gun violence devastates a family.
Did they not see the three dozen e-comments submitted by constituents in favor of adopting the Work Plan? Did they not at least skim the dozens of quotations in the Final Report about the ways guns are connected to suicide, domestic violence and life in low-income communities?
Or did the rambling, incoherent, conspiracy-theory-laden comments of a few citizens at the meeting appeal to their sense of fairness and good government? Does that kind of wild, exorbitant rhetoric resonate with them?
Supervisor Desmond’s comments focused on a belief that shootings are about mental health and he claimed that the plan didn’t do enough to address mental health. It is a NRA-driven myth that gun violence is primarily caused by mental health. But most violence is not causally linked to mental illness. A focus on mental health as “the” cause of gun violence distracts from the real issue with guns and mental health: suicide. And the very steps that Desmond voted against would start to address that very real issue.
Furthermore, just a few weeks prior, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the new 2023-24 County budget, which incorporates a new, three-year, $848-million Mental Health Services Act plan. The plan increases spending for programs to help children, youth, families, adults and older adults who suffer serious mental illness or crises. The first year of this mental health plan represented a 20% increase in spending over 2022-23. What more, specifically, was Supervisor Desmond looking for?
Supervisor Anderson just voted “no”, without any explanation whatsoever.
The cost of voting “no”
Gun violence costs not only lives but money. As with any public health issue – influenza, smoking, air pollution, COVID-19 – there are costs associated with voting “no” on incremental proposals aimed at addressing it.
In 2022, the Public Health Department of Santa Clara County published a report on the cost of gun violence. It found that the average annual public-sector costs – police, courts, jail, parole/probation, etc. – of firearm violence were $72.5 million in the county. Of course, that does not include medical and mental health, lost wages, quality of life and total costs for firearm deaths, hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
We don’t know of a similar study for San Diego County, but annual gun deaths here are almost three times higher than in Santa Clara County. San Diego’s non-fatal hospitalizations or emergency department visits are 25 percent higher than in Santa Clara. So, a conservative estimate would be that our public-sector costs are at least double those in the Santa Clara report, or roughly $145 million per year.
In other words, voting “no” on incremental but meaningful changes that cost no additional money carries not only a cost in lives lost or forever altered, but in public dollars. How much of the cost of voting “no” do these Republican Supervisors want their constituents to incur?
Finally, there is the cost of growing cynicism among the County residents most impacted by violence. As one listening session participant said, prior studies about disparities resulted in no changes. How do we trust change will happen with this study, they asked? How, indeed, when the simplest of actions are not supported by these Supervisors?
The next vote is yours
Supervisor Lawson-Remer held a press conference immediately after the vote. Naturally, the hope was that she could announce acceptance of the Final Report and adoption of the Work Plan. But the final tally was 2-2, which meant that the action has stalled.
She made her displeasure known. She denounced the Republicans’ “no” votes as blocking “even the smallest, most common-sense reforms” and pledged to continue fighting for gun safety in our communities.
Several other people spoke at the press conference, including the Muñozes and the Olivers. The Olivers are the parents of Joaquín “Guac” Oliver, who was killed in the shooting at Margery Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, five years ago. The Olivers stopped in San Diego as part of their nationwide “Guac’s Magical Tour” of cities affected by mass shootings. Manny Oliver was indignant. He said refusal to take meaningful action – such as the Republican Supervisors’ refusal – is the reason for their tour. He cited the importance of voting local, which is where most of the progress in gun-violence prevention is occurring.
There’s a race on right now for the vacancy in District 4 of the Board of Supervisors, where two candidates are responsive to gun-safety issues: Monica Montgomery-Steppe and Janessa Goldbeck. The other two candidates are decidedly NOT focused on gun violence prevention: one is endorsed by the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC that fought against this Work Plan, and the other has made no public statements that we could locate regarding gun violence.
If you want to prevent gun violence (and avoid another mess like the one last week), do your homework on Montgomery-Steppe and Goldbeck, and cast your vote for one of those candidates by August 15. Let all the candidates – this year and next year – know that ending gun violence in San Diego is important to you.
Therese Hymer is a board member and leads the Legislation and Advocacy Team of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention.