Bay Area News Group: Assembly members, faith community come together to discuss gun safety

A forum on gun safety reform will take place at Saratoga's Westhope Presbyterian Church Jan. 20, featuring Assembly members Evan Low and Marc Berman, along with Rev. Erik Swanson and Saratoga Vice Mayor Manny Cappello.

Like most everyone else, the Rev. Erik Swanson watched the grisly scene of a gunman opening fire at the Route 91 Harvest music festival in Las Vegas last October in horror. The murder spree left nearly 60 people dead and more than 500 injured. In the days following what was deemed the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S., Swanson’s horror turned into frustration. How could something like that happen in a developed nation?

Swanson, a pastor at Westhope Presbyterian Church, didn’t have the answers himself, but he knew it was a problem he could no longer ignore and he had to do something about it. His first move was to call Manny Cappello, vice mayor of Saratoga.

“Erik Swanson contacted me and asked if there was something that we could do to address this big problem, and I said that a really good person to contact would be (Assemblyman) Evan Low because I knew he’d been proposing legislation at the state level that could address some of these issues,” Cappello recalled.

Low said he was “pleasantly surprised” to be approached by Swanson and Cappello about this issue. One piece of legislation he and his colleagues in the Assembly are exploring, he said, would create a database allowing law enforcement to track bullets and weapons that have been used in a crime. He cited the legislation as an example of sensible firearm regulation, a position that respects individuals’ freedom to own firearms, while focusing on the impact of gun violence on communities and preventing future tragedies.

“We talk about our commitment to society and the sanctity of life,” said the assemblyman, “(but) places of gathering are no longer sacred anymore. You’re thinking you’ll be safe in an elementary school; you’re thinking you’re safe in a movie theater, in a nightclub, in a house of worship. … There have been mass shootings in nightclubs, in churches, in movie theaters, in elementary schools. … When does it end?

“We need community members to hold their elected officials accountable” Low continued. “My message is I’m only one person; we need to organize our communities to articulate what our desires are.”

Along with Assemblyman Marc Berman, Low, Swanson and Cappello are uniting to host a forum at Westhope on Saturday, Jan. 20 to address these issues. Also taking part will be about two dozen members of the interfaith community.

Low said he plans to bring up regulations that are already in place and to draw comparisons to successful measures other industrialized nations, such as Australia, have taken.

Ultimately, said Swanson, the intended goal of the forum is “to establish a foundation from the grassroots to make changes in sensible firearms safety legislation, some of which are already being worked on and some of which has yet to be worked on.”

Swanson said he hopes that the forum will serve as the first step in an ongoing dialogue about gun safety reform, while Cappello said he’d like to see a continued collaboration between faith communities and the key players in Sacramento.

“The urgency is there to see some real legislation take place that curbs these types of violent acts that lately feel like acts of mass destruction on human life,” Cappello said. “My personal opinion is that this isn’t a restriction on guns for individuals or inhibiting our citizens’ constitutional rights to bear arms; this is more of a putting some pieces of legislation in place that can prevent these very, very violent and destructive acts from occurring.”

For Berman, the forum will be an opportunity not only to discuss his own ideas but to hear solutions others might have about what he considers to be an “all hands on deck problem.” Dialogue and mobilization are important steps toward passing laws on the federal and state levels, he said.

“This has to be an ongoing conversation, and we need to make sure people’s awareness of the problem stays at the forefront of their consciousness,” he said. “We can’t just have spikes of activism every time there’s a large gun-related catastrophe. We need to stay vigilant about this issues at all times.”

The forum is free and open to all. It will take place Saturday, Jan. 20, 3-4:30 p.m. at Westhope Presbyterian Church, 12850 Saratoga Ave.