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California leaders discuss community-led efforts to end gun violence

The Golden State had one of the highest rates of gun violence in the 1980s and 1990s until lawmakers began tightening firearms restrictions. More still needs to be done, according to community leaders.

(CN) — With California lawmakers approving a number of new gun control bills this year, Congress passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and recent mass shooting events, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla led a roundtable Thursday of community leaders from California discussing what else needs to be done to end gun violence.

“Let us stop and think about that the mass shooting which took place outside of Chicago at an annual celebration of America’s independence. Mass shootings have become a daily occurrence,” said Padilla. “Gun violence is an epidemic, but California has led the way on gun control. I am here to listen to solutions that can help achieve reduction in not only mass shooting events but in everyday gun violence.”

Padilla said California has been leading the way on gun prevention laws and said it is now time for the federal government to follow California’s lead.

California had one of the highest rates of gun violence in the nation during the 1980s and into the 1990s, and was above the average for gun related homicides than other states. The participants noted in different ways that the reduction in gun violence has been an effort since the mid-1990s to institute gun control laws while at the same time by providing services and funding for more local programs.

Even with the reduction in overall gun-related violence in California, the roundtable participants noted that there is still work to be done to combat gun violence through organizing, providing places to combat trauma and local programs to provide opportunity and support.

Ashley Castillo, junior at Hollywood High School and member of Students Demand Action, highlighted her experience in leading a walkout over gun violence in schools. She said she was discouraged to lead such a walkout by her teachers, as her teachers told her it would not accomplish anything.

“I believe that no student should ever have to make the choice, should ever have to choose between their education or their life,” said Castillo. “We talk about how every student has a right to education even through a global pandemic. Yet, we aren't keeping our schools safe enough for students to even want to continue to pursue an education.”

One of the main focuses of the roundtable was on the role local organizations working within their community can do to combat gun violence, especially amongst minority and rural populations.

“We must recognize the role of organizations and local leaders working in diverse communities of this state who are standing in the gap, working to save lives and ensuring that people within the communities most impacted by gun violence can experience the fullness of their lives, be safe and healthy, and thrive with dignity,” said Alex Johnson, chief of staff at the California Wellness Foundation.

Brian Malte, executive director of the Hope and Heal Fund, echoed those sentiments. He said that local communities, especially minority communities, need adequate funding to employ strategies that have worked in larger communities regarding prevention, intervention and healing from trauma.

“Communities of color and underserved communities have often been left out of the conversation on how to combat gun violence and to heal from the trauma of gun violence,” said Malte. “To move the needle on gun violence, we need everyone to have a seat at the table, including those communities that are in the rural areas and suburbs where most of the gun violence is now occurring in California.”

Kanwarpal Dhaliwal, co-founder and associate director of RYSE Center, said it is important that the media and policymakers focus on the young people of California and the nation and to listen to what they are experiencing and feeling. She said a number of young people are feeling stressors from living in the world today and the messages they are receiving through the media. Not all the stressors are related to gun violence; others include wage inequity, global warming and more.

Padilla highlighted the steps the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act will accomplish to help prevent future gun violence. The law will close the loopholes regarding red flag laws on individuals, strengthen background checks for purchasers of firearms under 21 years of age, and provides additional funding for community-based mental health services.

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