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Tuesday night, the Pasadena/Foothills Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union-Southern California hosted a panel on gun violence, the effect rampant shootings are having on our communities, and what we can do about it. A roomful of ACLU members and guests attended the forum moderated by Chapter board member Sharon Kyle.

gun violence panel

Leading off, Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez argued that a lasting solution will only come when we look at early intervention, early prevention, in the home, in schools, and in society.

“Traditional law enforcement mechanisms will not get at the core issues of gun violence,” Chief Sanchez said. “By the time law enforcement becomes involved, we are way behind the power curve. We have to look at front-loading resources and front-loading preventative and intervention-type efforts.”

Phillip Sanchez

Pasadena Police Chief Phillip Sanchez

He cited Pasadena’s Summer Night Lights program, which gives young people constructive things to do from spring through fall in Pasadena—with swimming, basketball, and movies topping the favorites list. He would like to expand the program to include parents, offering parenting classes.

Taking a different tack, Dr. Anthony Samad said we need to take a hard look at the militarization of society—the fact that we now have more guns than people in America and that weapons having nothing to do with hunting or protecting the home are so readily available.

“A young person in our communities might not know where to find a library,” Dr. Samad said. “But he’ll know where to get a gun.”

anthony samad

LA City College Professor Anthony Asadullah Samad

Samad, who recently published Real Eyez: Race, Reality, and Politics in 21st Century Popular Culture, argued that we need to hold people and organizations accountable.

“If you have a gun in the home without a trigger lock on it and your child takes it and shoots someone—another family member or someone outside the home—or shoots himself or herself, then society needs to call you to account,” he said. “That includes our entertainment industry, which has just saturated society with bloody movies and hyper-violent computer games.”

“You can take it all the way back to Columbine,” he concluded. “We have had 31 mass murders since Columbine. We get upset for six or eight months and then we go back to sleep again.”

david sapp

ACLU Staff Attorney David Sapp

Rounding out the panel, ACLU staff attorney David Sapp pointed toward budgetary issues, indicating that Los Angeles cut its Summer Night Lights program similar to the Pasadena effort for budgetary reasons.

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“Our budget cuts across the country have hit social programs hardest,” said Sapp, who specializes in juvenile justice and education issues for the ACLU’s Southern California affiliate. “But really the money is there; we just have a lack of coordination.”

“If every department in LA’s government would give up just one percent of its budget to fund social programs, we could keep Summer Night Lights going and we could hire 1,800 young workers, giving them something to do other than getting in trouble.”

All three panelists agreed that much of the current gun control and violence prevention discussion is going in the wrong direction.

“I read a report recently that the Fontana Police Department boasts that every one of its officers now has an assault rifle,” Sapp lamented. “Please! That’s just wrong.”

aclu gun violence

Chief Sanchez pointed as well to the folly of arming teachers, as Alabama has recently authorized and other states are considering.

“C’mon, can you imagine an algebra teacher carrying a pistol?” he said. “People don’t realize how difficult it is even for police officers to shoot someone, even with all their training. Things happen to a person’s body, their vision narrows, they’re affected psychologically just aiming a gun at someone.”

“Teachers carrying guns are much more likely to become part of the problem,” Sanchez observed. “They’d probably be more of a danger to themselves and the students than to anyone coming into the school with a gun.”

Samad added that until the 1964 Civil Rights Act, African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, and Native Americans were legally prevented from owning guns. “So if our government wanted to ban guns—or certain types of guns—it could,” he said.

dick price

ACLU-SC Pasadena/Foothills Chapter presents these forums on the second Tuesday of every odd-numbered month at Neighborhood Church in Pasadena. On May 14, the Chapter will look at the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and marriage equality.

Dick Price
Editor, LA Progressive

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Photographs: Malcolm Ali.

aclu gun violence panel