Gun Violence Out of Control
I intended to write about another subject for this month’s column, but I could not ignore the need to discuss guns in this country after the recent discharge of a firearm at the local Jewish community space on Balboa Street, and the mass shootings in California. It should be horrifying to us that a person would enter a public space and shoot randomly at walls and windows with seniors present. The fact that there have been 67 mass shootings in 2023 so far should give us all pause.
In September of 2019, when the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a resolution declaring the National Rifle Association (NRA) a domestic terrorist organization, we received many emails, phone calls, threats and personal attacks from people all over the country. The most upsetting were the ones I received from people who live in the Richmond District. They sent letters praising the NRA, noting the good works they do and how unfair and frankly “stupid” we were to make such a declaration.
That declaration, by the way, had no “teeth.” It was just a statement. And yet the anger it brought on had the sheriffs roaming the halls with bomb-sniffing dogs and added surveillance of City Hall. One resident even told my office that he had purchased a life membership to the NRA because “we had to be taught a lesson.”
Well, I think it’s time we all learn a lesson. Our use of guns in this country is out of control and the truth is that the NRA is a huge part of the problem. The NRA can still give gun-safety lessons, but it needs to recognize that we have a severe gun violence issue in this country, and it is literally killing us.
For full transparency: My father owned a .30-06 hunting rifle, and he was a certified rifle instructor with a life membership to the NRA. I spent many Sunday mornings with him as he opened and set up the shooting range and I remember my sister and I spending afternoons gathering spent shells. However, those memories have been replaced by a fear of the harm guns can do and have done to so many people just doing everyday activities.
As my husband and I walked around Lake Merced a couple of weeks ago, we passed by the wood fence outside of the police firing range. The sound of guns firing was constant and loud. I imagined what it might be like to hear that sound in a shopping mall, school, grocery store, restaurant, movie theater, dance hall, church or even a small Russian Jewish community space on Balboa. The sound of gunshots through the wood fence gave me a real gut feeling of the fear and panic that sound produces. When we must teach school-age children what to do if a shooter enters a school, we have lost our way. Many say we should train teachers on how to use guns and have one available in every classroom. That is beyond ridiculous. Ask any teacher you know about this idea, and they will tell you that’s crazy.
So where are the solutions? Do we just shrug our shoulders and say it’s horrible that children have been victims of mass shootings but that’s life? Or do we demand that our policy makers look to real solutions? A real solution – and this just a part of the solution – is the partnership with the State Attorney General’s Office and our District Attorney’s Office to sue the manufacturers of ghost guns. This partnership was created and developed when former District Attorney Chesa Boudin filed a lawsuit against three manufacturers of ghost guns and the state attorney general signed on as a partner.
For those who are unfamiliar with what ghost guns are, they are kits and privately made firearms that are untraceable by design, lacking serial numbers and other identifying markings. Ghost guns are unassembled guns that people can buy through the mail and assemble at home. They have no tracking information and there is no public record of who has purchased them or how many they have purchased.
In 2021, about 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement in criminal investigations and reported to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The figure marked a tenfold increase from 2016, according to the White House.
In San Francisco, police seized 1,089 guns in 2021, about 20% of which were ghost guns. Just five years prior in 2016, ghost guns made up less than 1% of total gun seizures. The City’s police department also reported that nearly half of the firearms recovered in homicide cases in 2020 were ghost guns. This is an upwardly moving trend as people discover that the firearm they used to kill someone cannot be traced back to them.
Another disturbing fact is that minors and prohibited purchasers can buy and build these guns, most of them AR-15 assault rifles. Eighty percent of mass shooters used an assault rifle. This is not about the Second Amendment. We are not talking about muskets, we are talking about assault rifles that can and do kill many people very quickly, including law enforcement officers. President Joe Biden also instituted new regulations for ghost guns which require manufacturers of these guns to be licensed and perform background checks. It also requires the manufacturers to add serial numbers to the gun kits. Gun Owners of America has promised to sue to halt this legislation. And the debate goes on … while we have 67 mass shootings in just two months of 2023.
It’s time for all of us to recognize that our way of living is jeopardized by gun violence. The “school yard fight” has evolved into the shooting of tens of thousands of people, and attending something as simple as a parade could cost you your life – or worse, the lives of your children.
The government should do what it should have done thousands of lives ago. It should have made these military weapons illegal to be privately owned. Common sense legislation for the common good.
“Thoughts and prayers won’t stop a speeding bullet.” – Dr. Da Shanne Stokes
Sandra Lee Fewer is a fourth-generation Chinese-American San Franciscan, former Board of Education commissioner, former member of the SF Board of Supervisors representing the Richmond District and has lived in the Richmond for more than 60 years.
Thank you, Sandra Fewer, for your impassioned commentary. I applaud your efforts to stop the carnage.
This issue needs to be atop the agendas of cities, states, and the federal government. The gun manufacturers are running amok, and we’re dying because of it. We need better education as well as better laws, beginning with a national ban on the sale of assault weapons to civilians. And, so, I continue to sign petitions, write letters, send money, and pray.
Can San Francisco bring this issue into the classroom? Gun violence prevention discussions can’t start too early.
Not one more.