MORAIN: Can legislators create workable gun laws?

  • This artwork by Donna Grethen relates to gun control.

After a three-hour hearing Tuesday focusing on gun control, some of us might have been left to wonder what more can be done in a state that has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.

The answer is: plenty.

Sure, some legislator-poseurs will seek quick attention. Seeing that gun control is a hot topic, lawmakers already have introduced vacuous bills that are little more than press releases.

But amid the empty concepts and retreads, there is at least a chance lawmakers will confront broader issues, chief among them the intersection between severe mental illness and violence.

"Clearly, we need early intervention, early detection," said Sen. Loni Hancock, a Berkeley Democrat who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee through which gun-related bills must pass. "We know there are people who are hurting very badly and need help."

The hearing opened at the Capitol with a video recounting the horrible day in January 1989 when a crazed drifter with an assault rifle slaughtered five children at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, the nation's first mass shooting at a school, but sadly not the last.

California legislators reacted by banning assault weapons. More than 20 years later, gun enthusiasts still can buy knockoffs of the guns banned by that law and other laws adopted since.

The hearing ended with the testimony of Amanda Wilcox, who with her husband, Nick Wilcox, lobbies for gun control for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Chatter that is a constant in legislative hearing rooms quieted when Wilcox recounted how her daughter was shot to death by a mentally ill gunman in January 2001 and described what awaits parents of the 20 first-graders massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

"They don't fully realize the loss," she said. There will, for example, be pain on holidays and at graduations and weddings. "What should be their best days will become their worst days."

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