On October 29th, I was honored to take part in an excellent Town Hall forum on the issue of Gun Violence. It was hosted at the First Christian Church in Eugene, Oregon, and was organized by Tony McCown, who is a candidate for Lane County commissioner.
Around 100 people took part. Concerned citizens from many different walks of life, including a number of gun owners and hunters. This was the second time the church has hosted such an event. The first time, a couple years ago, I was one of the speakers.
I set up a table for Ceasefire Oregon, and there were three other representatives from my organization, too, including one of the speakers, Executive Director Penny Okamoto. Moms Demand Action was also represented with a table and a speaker, Charlie McKenna. Also on the panel was state senator Floyd Prozanski, Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy, and current Lane County Commissioner Pete Sorenson.
The Town Hall began with the speakers. See video, below. After a quick introduction by Penny Okamoto, Senator Prozanski discussed in detail issues around the recently-enacted Senate Bill 941, which requires a background check for every gun purchase, including private transfers, in the state of Oregon. Mayor Piercy talked about the recent visit by President Obama to meet with the families of victims from the Umpqua Community College shooting, and about Mayors Against Illegal Guns (she is a member). Commissioner Sorenson talked about the resolution by the Lane County Commissioners (he was the only vote against it) which declared that the background check bill was "unconstitutional" and that no funds would allocated to enforce it (against the oath that they took to do so). Finally, Charlie McKenna talked about Moms Demand Action and what had to change in the Oregon Legislature in order to pass the universal background check bill after three years of trying.
The introduction of the speakers from the forum:
After this, the audience broke up into smaller groups to explore the issue of gun violence, its causes, and possible solutions. I was impressed by how seriously everyone took the issue and the level of positive debate that occurred. We all then re-convened and each group did a little presentation for each part of the questions.
Again, I was impressed with the solutions that people suggested, such as smart gun technologies, suicide prevention strategies, mandatory proficiency training for gun owners, and mandatory safe storage of guns, among other suggestions. The level of awareness was most striking. In similar forums, in the past, it didn't seem to me that there was the same level.
And, with each suggestion, comments were made by the speakers. See below for Penny Okamoto's response regarding mental illness, and how the NRA and other pro-gun supporters scapegoat the mentally ill (who are statistically more likely to be gun violence victims than to be gun violence suspects):
I want to thank First Christian Church for hosting the event, the speakers, and most of all the other attendees, for taking part. It is my hope that there can be more public forums like this one.