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"Politicians, victims, researchers work to prevent gun violence"

By Tanya Perez | The Davis Enterprise | May 28, 2015

[Re-posted with the permission of The Davis Enterprise.]


A prominent panel of speakers assembled on Wednesday night to discuss what can be done about gun violence. Yolo County and Sacramento Valley Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence hosted the community forum at UC Davis.

The speakers were a who’s who of area political power, including state Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis; Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa; and former Assemblywoman Helen Thomson. Other featured speakers included Amanda Wilcox, the mother of Laura Wilcox — for whom “Laura’s Law” is named — and UCD Davis School of Medicine gun violence researcher Dr. Garen Wintemute. Davis School Board Trustee Susan Lovenburg acted as moderator.

Michael Lairmore, dean of UCD’s School of Veterinary Medicine, also took some time to speak at the forum, although he admitted, “It wasn’t my plan to be at an event like this.”

Because a veterinary student, Whitney Engler was murdered in Davis in late March, Lairmore has found the need to speak about gun violence. Retelling some of the tragic details of Engler’s death — she was shot by her roommate, Joseph Hein, who then committed suicide — Lairmore choked up, saying, “I have four daughters. Every time I looked at that scenario I kept thinking about what would happen if one of them was killed.”

On the topic of what can be done, Wolk took the podium asking, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we didn’t have to have these meetings about gun violence in our society?” Because we do, however, she discussed SB707, which she hopes Gov. Jerry Brown will sign.

The bill would prohibit concealed weapons on K-12 and college campuses without permission of campus officials. Wolk said she’d been surprised when she found out this wasn’t already a law, but when “Campus police chiefs asked me to help close the loophole, I agreed.”

Wolk is encouraged that there is not much opposition to the bill, and it has gained overwhelming support from law enforcement and education officials, she said.

Dodd also expressed his interest in working with the Brady Campaign and Wolk to “get this bill across the finish line.”

Wintemute used a statistics-laden slideshow to tell stories of many deaths related to gun violence: black males die more from homicide, white males from suicide. Alcohol is often a factor.

He believes that his extensive research shows that violence is a public health problem. And he expects that further research — some of which will be published on Monday — will advance the cause of preventing gun violence.

“As clinicians we know to prevent the (firearms) deaths, we have to prevent the injuries. Most people who are shot and die, die where they were shot,” Wintemute said.

When Lovenburg introduced Wilcox, who has become the legislative and policy chair of the California Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a more personal narrative took shape.

Wilcox explained that “(the 2014 shooting rampage at) Isla Vista was very emotional for me; we too lost our college-age child in a shooting rampage,” Wilcox told of 19-year-old Laura’s murder in a mental health clinic in Nevada County in 2001. She was filling in as a receptionist when a man who’d refused psychiatric treatment killed three people and severely injured two others.

Wilcox said that the family of the man who killed Laura had been worried about his mental stability, as were his girlfriend and caseworker. They all knew he had firearms, but because he’d never been hospitalized or placed under an involuntary psychiatric hold, he had no gun prohibitions.

Thanks to Thomson, AB 1421 — known as Laura’s Law — was passed in the California State Legislature in 2002. The law allows court-ordered, intensive outpatient treatment for people with severe mental illnesses who refuse medication.

Wilcox was quick to point out that California is doing a lot right. “I’m very proud of our state, and our leaders,” she said. “California has the strongest gun laws in the nation.”

And do those laws make a difference? “I would contend that they do.”

This site provided with the assistance of the Davis Community Network.