This is an excerpt from reporter Scott Johnson's blog, which focuses on the effects of violence and trauma on the community.
The Oakland Tribune will be hosting a community forum Thursday in Preservation Park on the topic of gun violence. Our panelists will be looking at a number of issues around the theme. Among them: Where do the guns used by criminals in the Bay Area come from, and how do they get here? How do current laws protect us, and how do they leave us vulnerable? How is the scourge of gun-related violence affecting our communities? And how can we improve safety and foster a sense of community without infringing on anybody's constitutional rights?
These are tough questions, and while we're not likely to solve the problems we face, we are hoping to open up a larger conversation about gun violence in which everybody feels they are welcome to participate constructively.
Of course, gun violence is not new to Oakland, or any other American city for that matter. That doesn't make it any less important, however. And as anyone who reads the newspaper in Oakland knows, the myriad ways people use guns to kill continues to morph into more horrific mutations. Last year, people wielding guns killed three small children. Two of them were hit by stray bullets fired into crowded areas. The third child appears to have been within a very short distance of the shooter, raising questions about who was the intended target.
Within these six short months last year, Oakland crossed a Rubicon of sorts. It was the first time in the city's history so many small children (under the age of 5) had been killed by gun violence. Two of the cases remain unsolved. In the meantime, more guns have killed more people -- 55 so far this year, as of this writing.
So my question now is: What is the next grim record the city will break as gun violence continues to spread? This is especially troubling in my view because, nationwide, crime statistics are actually declining. Thus, the mostly urban islands of our country where gun violence remains high should, in theory, be cause for greater concern. One wonders if they really are.
Whatever one's views on the role of guns in American society -- and there are bound to be many conflicting and opposing views -- it seems somehow deeply irresponsible not to have open and honest discussions about how to improve public safety in a focused way without trampling on our freedom.
I recently attended a gun show in Las Vegas to see what was on offer and who was buying. Anecdotally, it looked like most of the buyers were hunters, marksmen or just passionate gun enthusiasts. But I was startled at how easy it was to buy virtually any kind of weapon, with little to no oversight, and I wondered just how many of these weapons were going to end up at a crime scene somewhere in the Bay Area three or six or 12 months down the road.
Certainly many of the weapons on display were of the type criminals would like to get their hands on. There were AK-47s, M16 and M4 assault rifles, like those used by soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, sniper rifles, shotgun pistols and .38-caliber snub revolvers. One vendor at the show showed me a clever device that allows the user to turn a simple handgun into a powerful rifle. Because the device itself isn't a weapon, he told me, he could ship it to me via UPS in California. "It'll be there by the time you get home," he told me.
Outside the front doors of the convention center, I watched as a young man bought an M16 from a freelance vendor who had been walking around with the gun's price tag sticking out of the barrel. Law enforcement officers say sales like these account for a significant number of the weapons later involved in acts of crime.
So what to do? How should the community respond? Is this just a job for law enforcement, or is it bigger than that? What do the laws say, and should they be changed? And how does all of this fit into our constitutionally protected right to bear arms? What is your experience of gun violence?
Join us tonight for the discussion. We look forward to seeing you there.
Join the Oakland Tribune and the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education on Thursday for a panel discussion titled "Guns: An American tradition or community crisis?"
The forum will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. at Nile Hall, 668 13th St., inside Preservation Park in downtown Oakland. The event is free and open to the public.
The discussion will be moderated by Scott C. Johnson, Oakland Tribune violence reporting fellow.
For more information contact Martin G. Reynolds, Bay Area News Group senior editor for community engagement, at 510-208-6433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.