A Conversation on Gun Violence with Congressman Adam Schiff and Senator Anthony Portantino, Burbank, CA

On Monday, November 26th, 2018, I attended a presentation called “A Conversation on Gun Violence with Congressman Adam Schiff and Senator Anthony Portantino,” which was held at Woodbury University in Burbank, CA. I attended because I am concerned about the increasing incidents of mass shootings around the country and wanted to learn more about any possible solutions. I was not alone – every seat in the auditorium was full.

Presently, California leads the nation in mass shootings. According to the website Statistica, between 1982 and November 2018, there have been 19 mass shootings in California, followed by Florida which had ten, Texas with 9, Washington with 7 and Colorado with 6.  Wisconsin, New York, and Pennsylvania each had 4, Connecticut, Ohio & Maryland each had 3, and the other states listed had either one or two.

According to The Gun Violence Archive, a mass shooting is defined as four or more individuals being shot or killed at the same general time and location. The F.B.I. calls it “mass killings” and they define it as three or more people, killed at the same time and location. To date, there have been 323 mass shootings in 2018; last year there were 346 in 2017. When is the violence going to end? How is it going to end? These are the questions I had on my mind when I came to this event last Monday.

Congressman Adam Schiff, who is in his 12th term in the U.S. House of Representatives serving California has been very vocal about the need for gun reform. Joining his was California State Senator Anthony Portantino, Andrea L. Welsing, MPH, Director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Program and Karen C. Rogers, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at USC Keck School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital, L.A.

Over the course of the 1 ½ hour event there was a lot of conversation and questions being asked, but as we all know, this is a difficult issue to solve. The shooters are from different backgrounds, some are mentally ill, some have grievances that they choose to take out on everyone else. The questions on everyone’s mind are pretty much the same: Are we safe to gather in public and is there anything we can do to prevent gun violence?

Congressman Schiff started the conversation by emphasizing that this conversation is not about hunting or self-protection, it’s about the rising incidents of homicides and suicides. In our country, an average of 96 people die each day from gun violence and to date, 78,000 deaths are attributed to gun violence. (I’m not sure how many years this research included).

In the most recent mass shooting – on November 7th in Thousand Oaks, it was noted that the gunman who killed 12 people, obtained his gun illegally. But there was also the question about bump stocks and the sales of assault rifles. In the Las Vegas shooting last October which killed 58 concertgoers, the gunman had rigged his weapons with bump stocks to fire more rapidly.”

Congressman Schiff stated that, “Since 2014, the cost of care and police enforcement from mass shootings has amounted to $1.2 billion dollars. This violence is preventable but that we need more gun violence research on what is causing this and what we can do to be the safest nation.”

Andrea Welsing, who is the Director of the Los Angeles Department of Public Health, Injury and Violence Prevention Program then spoke about the misconception that shootings are mostly committed by those who are mentally ill. She stated that, “Those who are mentally ill represent only 1% of gun homicides; the majority are committed by white males.”

She added that the U.S. has more of an issue of gun violence than other countries do and conjectured that restricting access to guns will help a great deal. As an example she talked about teenage girls, who have the highest rate of suicide, but seldom use guns because they are more difficult to access.

Karen Rogers, Ph.D. who is an Associate Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at USC Keck School of Medicine and Children’s Hospital, L.A. then suggested one thing that each person can do right now, which is to be a mentor to a child or a teen.  She talked about how children and teens who have support and guidance from even a single mentor, generally resist joining gangs. She suggested that those who could, connect to the children in our community and become a positive example, saying: “It only takes one. You can make a world of difference to that one child and it can expand out.”

There are some restrictions on gun accessibility and Senator Portantino clarified that by saying in California those who have been charged with a “5150,” which is a mental health – related hold or arrest, must wait ten years before purchasing firearms. If they have had two or more “5150’s,” they are banned altogether from purchasing firearms.

Former State Senator Jack Scott, who was in the audience, then added, “Other countries have much stronger gun laws than the USA and subsequently, they also have lower incidents of gun violence.”

After additional discussion by these speakers, audience members asked questions relating to ways legislation could impact the growing violence we are seeing. There was general agreement among everyone present that elected officials who are not supportive of common sense gun safety laws, need to be voted out of office.

In February, Senator Portantino will sponsor two workshops offering mental health training. In the meantime this complex issue remains open for those who have experience, to offer some solution.

For the record, I did some research on the mass shootings that have taken place over the past ten years. Here’s some research I put together:

November 7, 2018, the Borderline nightclub in Thousand Oaks, CA was having a “country dancing/college night.” The gunman burst in and killed 12 people before being shot dead. The shooter was a 28-year old former U.S. Marine machine gunner who fired more than 50 rounds into the crowd. He then killed himself.

October 27, 2018, 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh – mostly elderly people – are killed by a neo-Nazi. The shooter was arrested.

On February 14, 2018, a 19-year old former high school student opened fire on students in a Parkland, Florida high school killing 17. The gunman, who had been expelled, was arrested.

On November 8th, 2017, 26 worshippers were gunned down in a Texas church by a 26-year old man who then committed suicide.

On October 1, 2017, 58 people who were enjoying a country music concert were killed in Las Vegas and another 500 were wounded by a 64-year old man who then shot himself.

On June 12, 2016, 49 people were killed at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a 29-year old male who claimed allegiance to the Islamic State. The gunner was then shot dead by police.

December 2, 2015, a Muslim couple stormed an office party in San Bernardino, CA killing 14 and wounding 22 before being shot dead by police.

Sept. 16, 2013, a former serviceman shot workers at a Washington Navy Yard killing 12 people before being shot dead by police.

July 20, 2012, a young man wearing body armor shot up a cinema in Aurora, Colorado during a showing of Batman, killing 12 and wounding 70. He is now serving a life sentence in prison.

In December 2012, a 20-year old man killed his mother, then shot 20 children and 6 adults in Sandy Hook, New Jersey before killing himself.

Nov. 5, 2009, a U.S. Army psychiatrist opened fire on a military base in Killeen, Texas killing 13 and wounding 42.

On April 3, 2009, a Vietnamese immigrant went on a rampage at a civic center in Binghampton, New York killing 13 people as well as himself.

As you can see, there are a range of different situations in the shootings but there are some commonalities. If you’d like to track the statistics, yourself, here’s the link: