The voices were those of the faithful 40 who showed up at the Lacey Community Center Thursday night for a town hall and panel discussion on what we can do to produce a cease fire on gun violence in our own community.
There were a lot of empty seats in the room, seats that represented all those citizens who have just gone on with their lives. Unlike those truly in attendance, they may not dwell on the faces of the 20 innocent children who were gunned down Dec. 14 in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting spree that also claimed the lives of six adults. Perhaps they are comfortable on the sidelines while politicians at the federal and state level propose and oppose gun control legislation and funding for programs that keep families healthy and communities resilient to violence.
Maybe the white noise from more recent headline-grabbing murders has diminished the import of the Newtown massacre, sending it slinking into the annals where Americas dark deeds reside.
Or maybe Im overreacting to what feels like too much apathy and not enough commitment to seize the moment on behalf of change in memory of the young lives snuffed out so horrifically.
In the days right after the Newtown massacre, I asked friends, family members, newsroom colleagues, outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire anyone who would listen was the Newtown mass murder the bloody wake-up call that would lead to renewed effort on several fronts to curb gun violence? Would it be enough to build political support increased funding for mental health programs, a ban on assault rifles and background checks for anyone who wants to buy a gun?
I hope so, but I dont know, I remember the governor said, her sentiments echoed by others I talked to.
So there we were Thursday night, listening to a panel discussion by a Lacey police officer, a pastor, a public health officer, a school principal and a Thurston Dispute Resolution Center citizen volunteer.
Heres what I took from the two-hour conversation.
When people are in crisis, thinking suicidal thoughts, easy access to a gun and ammunition is lethal, Thurston County public health officer Dr. Diana Yu noted. She had statistics to back her up: There were 629 firearm deaths in the state in 2011, 492 of them were suicides.
Safe storage of firearms separate from the ammunition is very important in diffusing the impulse to commit suicide, she said.
Lacey Police Commander Joe Upton presented a dizzying array of statistics that suggested gun buy back programs, universal background checks and a ban on the sale of assault rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines are not panaceas to reduce gun violence. For instance, he said:
* There are some 40 million high capacity ammunition clips in circulation in the United States, nullifying the impact of a new ban.
* Some 1,000 police chiefs were asked in 2012 what trends they saw in the criminal use of assault weapons seven years after a federal ban on their purchase expired in 2004. About 50 percent saw no change, more than 32 percent werent sure, 9.7 percent said assault weapon use was on the rise and 8.6 percent said it was on the decline.
* Federal prosecutors only processed 62 of the 76,000 cases that the FBI referred for prosecution on felony charges of alleged illegal gun purchases in 2010.
Uptons talk didnt sit too well with the faithful 40. So what do you think we should do, someone in the crowd asked.
Improve access to mental health programs, station police officers at schools and make doctors report gunshot wounds that they treat, the police commander said.
Lynne Dearing, a psychiatric nurse, wasnt impressed with Uptons response.
Most gun violence is not by mentally ill people and I dont want loaded guns at schools, she said. We need to learn how to diffuse anger in people and that starts with good communication skills and good anger management skills.
Yu recommended that every child born in the community receive an assessment to determine if his or her parents have the parenting skills necessary to nurture them, and intervene if they dont. Children born into families prone to substance abuse and domestic violence need help, she said.
Its not clear what the community gun violence activists will do next in their cease fire cause. Stay tuned at stopthurstongunviolence.wordpress.com.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 email@example.com