Sonoma County voices weigh in on Newsom’s proposed gun control amendment

The proposal offered a more sweeping and radical approach than the nuts-and-bolts legislative groundwork and public safety campaigning that often occupies gun safety advocates.|

When Dr. Mark Shapiro heard Thursday about Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new proposal to amend the U.S. Constitution and enshrine into law a host of gun control measures, he had what turned out to be a fairly common reaction.

“Is this the right solution?” Shapiro, a Santa Rosa physician and host of the podcast series Explore the Space, said in the early afternoon. “Look, I’m three hours into this like a lot of people are.”

Newsom’s proposed 28th Amendment would make universal background checks the law of the land, raise the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21 and ban sales of assault rifles to civilians. It would also give states and local governments the right to pass stiffer measures.

The proposal offered a more sweeping and radical approach than the nuts-and-bolts legislative groundwork and public safety campaigning that often occupies gun safety advocates.

But Shapiro, a prominent Sonoma County voice among those ranks, was happy to read of Newsom’s proposal.

“It has sure galvanized the conversation,” he said. “It was like, ‘Wow, this is an option? OK, let’s think this through.’ There will be more things that emerge as reasonable solutions. But to be at the point where the governor of a state is pushing this forward? That a governor can feel there’s enough political capital in this to put it forward? It shows how much the needle has moved.”

Except this is America, where there often seems to be two needles moving in opposite directions at the same time.

Nicholas Melzian, who works at Independence Armory in Petaluma and owns firearms, believes Newsom is in for an uphill battle

“What we’ve seen with Newsom, he’s all bark and no bite,” Melzian said. “He can basically use the dialogue as currency. But these things are so hard to achieve — you just can’t outlaw gun ownership. There just isn’t data to reflect these restrictions. And gun owners are so concerned with safety that if the data showed restrictions equate to gun safety, we’d be on board.”

Despite his skepticism, Melzian is concerned about the governor’s plan. A big public proclamation like this one, even in the absence of legislation, is likely to result in higher gun prices, and especially handgun prices, he said.

“There would be extra hoops to jump through,” Melzian said. “What ends up happening is restrictions on the market equate to higher prices for the consumer. Given that the cost of freedom is priceless, consumers will meet the market wherever it’s at. You’ll see it affect the price tag, but not the ease with which people get guns.”

Rep. Mike Thompson, one of Sonoma County’s two congressmen and the pointperson among House Democrats on gun violence prevention, was flying from his office in Washington to his home base in Napa Valley on Thursday and was unavailable for an interview, according to a staff member. Thompson’s office provided a written statement in response to a question about his thoughts on Newsom’s proposal:

“Responsible gun owners, parents, gun violence survivors, and elected leaders across our country are working to find solutions that will help save lives and protect our communities — and nothing should be off the table. There are provisions like universal background checks, red flag laws, and raising the age to purchase firearms that are supported by the majority of Americans. Evidence shows that these provisions would save lives, and it is past time to act on gun violence.”

Thompson will be participating June 24 in Rock the Ride, a Napa cycle-and-walk fundraiser for national and local nonprofits that focus on issues of gun violence. A Vietnam War veteran, Thompson is a gun owner and seasoned hunter who has made firearm safety a central plank of his work in Congress, especially in the wake of the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

He and Shapiro have become allies, supporting measures that seek to reduce gun violence while respecting the Second Amendment. Both believe there is room for compromise — as evidenced by a national poll released April 27.

That poll revealed that a large majority of Americans are in favor of the four specific principles Newsom outlined in his announcement. Eighty-seven percent support criminal background checks on all gun buyers, while 81% support raising the legal purchase age from 18 to 21; 77% approve requiring a 30-day waiting period for firearm purchases and 61% endorse banning assault weapons.

Biased source? The poll was conducted by Fox News.

“Find any other issue in American life that polls above 70% like this,” Shapiro said. “It tells me these are reasonable steps to support public life.”

Of measures cited in those poll numbers, the one likely to trigger the most emotion on both sides is a renewed ban on assault weapons.

Critics point to their intended military use and how often they are involved in gruesome mass shootings.

President Joe Biden, who earlier this year called on lawmakers to do “something big” on gun control, has voiced his support for a new ban on assault weapons — a call that Thompson himself said was likely to go nowhere in a divided Congress.

Newsom, meanwhile, had signaled his position on Jan. 25.

“What the hell is wrong with us, that we allow these weapons of war and large-capacity clips out on our streets and sidewalks?” he asked during an appearance in Half Moon Bay, the day after a man shot five of his co-workers at a mushroom farm there, killing four of them.

But Melzian called the AR-15, the semi-automatic assault rifle with a long history in U.S. mass shootings, “my bread and butter” and “California’s favorite gun.”

It was outlawed under the 1994 assault weapons ban signed by President Bill Clinton. But the expiration of that ban in 2004 led to skyrocketing sales of those weapons, with an estimated 20 million in circulation by 2020, according to figures produced by the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Melzian said the definition of “assault weapon” rests on fairly nuanced features like an unlocked magazine or a threaded muzzle. All in all, he said, the AR-15 is reliable and easy to operate. He believes the vast majority of gun owners use them sensibly.

“Everybody has them, everybody sells them,” Melzian said. “And everybody is big on compliance. The gun community is not only willing to do this in the name of safety, but more so, because it’s legally required.”

Shapiro said he respects gun owners. But as a medical professional, he wants the people in his community to be able to move about freely in their daily lives — at the store, in their places of employment, in churches and schools — without worrying about the possibility of being gunned down.

That is why he has become increasingly outspoken in framing gun violence as a public health crisis.

“We have a proud tradition in this country, to protect life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life is first,” Shapiro said. “And we have addressed all sorts of things from that perspective, everything from drownings to cancer to car accidents. Every one of those has an array of rational, effective interventions that have changed the trajectory of public safety in our everyday lives. Gun violence is the exception.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

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