Rally Against Gun Violence

These remarks were spoken by Superintendent Watkins at an anti-gun violence rally held at the Town Clock on February 26, 2013.

“I would like to thank the organizers of this event for the invitation to speak on the issue of gun violence in our society. Without safe schools and communities we cannot truly be a free society. If there is one thing that we as Americans value, it is our freedom.

Gun violence has so embedded itself in our culture that we as an informed citizenry have been thoroughly and unquestionably desensitized to its effects on our lives. The facts speak for themselves. Since Columbine, there have been nearly 200 serious gun incidents on school campuses resulting in either multiple, as in Virginia Tech, or individual deaths and yet it took an incident as sensational and incomprehensible as that which took place on the Sandy Hook Elementary School campus in Newtown, Connecticut, to finally draw our attention to the plague of gun violence. I share the sentiments of Brooks Mencher, News Design Editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, when he said: ‘It is shameful and embarrassing that it took the lives of 20 children to move the government on this issue; and it is agonizingly sad.’

Make no mistake, the Sandy Hook School shooting has mobilized and galvanized this Country to address the effects of gun violence like no other in recent history.

Growing up in Oakland, I was no stranger to gun violence; but it wasn’t like it is today. The insidious nature in which guns have taken a stranglehold on our communities is shocking. In Oakland, there were 126 killings last year with 115 being committed with guns; and in California, there were 1790 killings last year with 1220 being committed with guns. And keep in mind these statistics do not include the many other victims who have been paralyzed or permanently disabled from these shootings.

While America’s birthrate is 1 child every 8 seconds, the rate at which guns are manufactured in this country is 1 firearm every 4 seconds. Guns are also imported and brought into this country illegally. In fact, by November of this year, our Country will have reached a milestone of sorts—there will be enough guns to equal and then surpass the number of men, women and children in the United States. Our own community, beautiful Santa Cruz County, is not immune to violence. [On the same afternoon as this rally, two Santa Cruz police detectives were ambushed and gunned down in a tragedy that has touched the whole community.]

Recently, two lives were cut short by guns; one was a student killed on the Watsonville High School campus. These senseless shootings not only affect the lives of family and friends but also the lives of students. I recently saw a bumper sticker on a car that said: It’s good in the hood. But sadly for many of our children, this isn’t the case. How can we expect our children to learn and thrive in school when research has shown that children living in areas of high crime and violence can experience the same symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as those of combat veterans? We need to keep our children safe by keeping guns out of the hands of those who commit crimes and out of the hands of the mentally ill who are prone to violence. It can be done.

I know that some of you may feel that it is ‘the right of the people to keep and bear arms’ as was written in the Second Amendment, but let me remind you that the 2nd Amendment was written in 1791, at a time when there were NO singular weapons capable of mass destruction like an AR-15 assault rifle with hollow-point bullets (the preferred weapon of choice for many of the shooters). Dr. Andre Campbell, a trauma surgeon at S.F. General for 19 years, says ‘Any legislation we can pass that can reduce the number of bullets and guns on the streets is a positive step. We need to have discussions on how to get high-capacity guns off the street…I have seen patients shot 10, 20 and 30 times…’ In fact, the historic Hague Peace Conference of July 1899 banned fragmenting and mushrooming bullets from the theater of war, yet we live in an America with fewer restrictions on ammunition than the world’s battlefields.

What can we do? For starters we can make our voices heard as you are doing here today. We need to lobby for the reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban which was allowed to sunset in 2004; expand background checks for all gun purchases (40% of all gun purchases do not require background checks); limit the purchase of certain types of ammunition and track the purchasers; and adopt the Hague policy which outlaws fragmenting and mushrooming bullets. Furthermore, we need to increase counseling in our schools. California has the highest caseload of students to counselor ratio in the nation. (120 attempted assaults on America’s schools were thwarted over the past 10 years according to National School Safety and Security Services because of the training and vigilance of fellow employees and students.) We do not need any more sidewalk or roadside memorials.

Today marks the 1st anniversary of the death of Trayvon Martin, the young man who went out to purchase a bag of Skittles in Florida and was killed by another citizen because he was Black and looked suspicious. If Florida did not have a Stand Your Ground law, Trayvon would probably still be alive today. There is no place in a civilized society for every citizen to be packing a gun. I am reminded of those images/pictures we see from Third World countries (Somalia etc.) where young men are seen driving and walking the streets with guns and rifles. America is not a Third World country.

Let’s continue to work together to make our schools, cities and communities safe by adopting laws that work to keep guns off the streets. Thank you.”