In preparing to chair a new congressional task force on gun violence, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, is touring his district in a series of town hall forums this week.
First up is one at the Napa City Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, offering residents the chance to have their voices heard in a debate that figures to loom large over Congress in 2013.
The forum will feature leaders of local law enforcement agencies, mental health service providers, school systems, and elected officials, including Napa Mayor Jill Techel, Napa Police Chief Richard Melton, Napa County Undersheriff Brian Banducci, Napa County Office of Education Superintendent Barbara Nemko, District Attorney Gary Lieberstein, Randy Snowden, director of the county Health and Human Services Agency, and Supervising Special Agents John Marsh and Black Graham from the California Department of Justice.
“I think a big part of it is listening to what others have to say,” Police Chief Melton said Monday. “It’s an important community issue; it’s an important national issue. It’s important that our community is participating.”
As the chair of a gun violence task force that Democrats in the House of Representatives organized after the Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting in December, Thompson organized the forums to get community feedback — he’s also hosting one in Vallejo on Wednesday, and Santa Rosa on Thursday — that could influence the steps he and other lawmakers can take to reduce and prevent gun violence.
Thompson’s preferred means of doing this touches on a broad range of issues, from renewing a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, to coordinating a response from schools and mental health professionals on how to prevent mass shootings from happening, to curbing the media and entertainment industries’ promotion of gun violence.
He’s asking the Napa County Board of Supervisors to endorse these positions in a resolution; the board is scheduled to vote on that during its Tuesday morning meeting.
Techel said she hasn’t heard of a similar request to the Napa City Council, but believes the forum could provide a basis for a discussion of local ordinances involving guns. She notes that the issues surrounding school shootings extend far beyond guns, though.
“It’s a broader topic than just guns,” Techel said. “(Thompson) wants to hear from as many different people with as many different ideas as are out there. This is that opportunity.”
Melton said Tuesday night’s forum will be an opportunity for residents to offer their ideas and solutions to the issue to a lawmaker with a significant role in the debate.
He said he wants to ensure that local law-enforcement agencies’ perspectives are represented in discussions of gun violence, and was happy to participate in the forum when Thompson’s office asked.
“I think we’re integrated in this issue in a variety of ways,” Melton said.
Snowden said his most important role in the forum will be to listen, and to demonstrate the effectiveness that programs dedicated to behavioral and mental health, and substance abuse treatment and prevention, have in preventing and reducing violence.
“There are statistical correlates all over the place,” Snowden said. “We’re always interested in taking a look at what we’re doing.”
Snowden said he hopes the forum can look beyond the potential requirements of new laws, and focus on the community’s priorities in addressing gun violence.
“I think the most important thing is giving the community an opportunity to speak up,” Snowden said. “Our look at this is, we want to understand what the priorities of the community are. It’s less of what a law might or might not require.”
Nemko said she hopes to use the forum to inform the public of the measures local schools are taking in emergency preparedness, security, mental health treatment, keeping kids from using drugs or alcohol, and bullying.
That two-pronged approach of prevention and reaction is crucial to providing safety, and to ensuring school shootings don’t happen in Napa, she said.
“We don’t know exactly what causes a person to do that,” Nemko said of the motivations for school shootings. “There are enough things that we can do if we detect it early. The connection to one caring adult can make all the difference.”