The two dozen mostly older and all-white participants in the community discussion on gun violence agreed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre last month in Newtown, Conn., was the “enough is enough” moment that must lead to an end to the nation’s love affair with guns that serve no civilian purpose.
Not all guns, mind you. About 25 percent of the adults in the room own guns — mostly for hunting and, to a lesser degree, self-protection. Many in attendance talked of friends and family members who own guns.
For Jim Yatman, an Olympia resident and retired psychiatric nurse, the connection to firearms is more personal than just the fact all of his four children are gun owners. Raised by blind parents, Yatman said his father lost his eyesight as a young boy when his brother shot him accidentally with a gun he received as a Christmas present.
“My dad was not a bitter man,” Yatman said.
He organized the community discussion. It was one of about 220 similar events scheduled nationwide Thursday night under the auspices of the liberal, nonprofit group MoveOn.org.
“I’m pleasantly surprised,” Yatman said. “I thought we’d get maybe four or five people to come to this event.”
Timing was clearly in Yatman’s favor: The meeting, which was not widely publicized, came one day after President Barack Obama went public with the most sweeping set of anti-gun-violence measures in the past 20 years. Included in the president’s proposal is a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazine clips. The majority of those at the church meeting Thursday night approved of those measures.
“This is the most energy I’ve seen around the gun-violence issue in the past 45 years,” said John Boylan, who serves as a chaplain at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, and the Pierce County Jail.
After a brief round of introductions, Yatman displayed on a projector screen a series of sobering statistics. Many there were familiar with them, including:
• The civilian population in the United States owns about 283 million guns responsible for about 30,000 deaths per year.
• Only 1 percent of the nation’s gun dealers account for 60 percent of the guns recovered by police in criminal cases, according to the fact sheet supplied by Yatman.
“Isn’t that a starting point?” asked a retired registered nurse who has worked in hospital emergency rooms from California to Alaska, treating gunshot wounds and having guns pulled on her at work.
There was a lot of discussion Thursday night on the need to crack down on gun shows — places where potential gun buyers can skirt background checks, both existing ones and the more stringent measures the president called on Congress to enact. Someone even suggested that the group demonstrate locally at big-box stores that sell assault weapons.
Someone else suggested pricing ammunition so high, the average person couldn’t afford it.
Call and email members of the state congressional delegation, urging them to stand with Obama on gun control, others suggested.
“I’ll call Denny Heck (freshman congressman from Olympia) tomorrow,” Maureen Farr said.
Farr added that she thought the National Rifle Association’s steadfast opposition to Obama-like gun-control measures is out of touch with voters.
“The fear of the NRA is ridiculous,” she said. “When I talk to gun owners, government is what they fear.”
The need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill was acknowledged, but, in the same breath, recognized as a near-impossible task without increased funding for mental health programs.
Olympia resident Kathy Strauss, a parent of two young children, said the Thursday night meeting was like a tonic for the nausea she felt in the wake of the Newtown massacre.
“This meeting gave me something to do, a way to get involved,” she said afterward.
The one thing all in attendance agreed to do was keep meeting on a monthly basis, and invited the general public to attend. The next community discussion is set for 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at the Lacey Community Center, 6729 Pacific Ave. SE.
Yatman hopes to draw more people and more ideas into the discussion while keeping the heat on elected officials from Congress down to city hall to get serious about gun control.
Hey, Thursday night was a start.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444