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Rep. Mike Thompson hails new federal gun violence prevention law alongside allies in Santa Rosa

Mike Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, highlighted the new federal law in a press conference with local officials and gun violence prevention allies.|

Sonoma County leaders joined North Bay Rep. Mike Thompson Thursday morning to mark the passage of the new federal gun violence prevention law that Thompson said would “save lives.”

In a series of votes, Congress advanced the bill last week to President Joe Biden, who signed it June 25. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was the first significant federal gun safety legislation to become law in 28 years.

At a news conference at Shepard Accelerated Elementary School in Santa Rosa, Thompson, D-St. Helena, called the bill’s bipartisan passage a “major success.”

“It will really change things,” Thompson said. “Make our communities and our schools safer. I’m pretty excited about that.”

He was joined by Thursday by Tim Smith from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Mary-Frances Walsh, executive director of NAMI Sonoma County, the nonprofit focused on mental health; Héctor Rico, superintendent of Roseland School District; Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Rogers and Santa Rosa Chief of Police John Cregan; Sonoma County District Attorney-elect Carla Rodriguez; Dr. Mark Shapiro, an internal medicine physician at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital; Jennifer Weiss, chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma-Marin; and Abrea Tillman, student body president at Santa Rosa Junior College.

The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act takes a multipronged approach to gun violence prevention with measures that address domestic violence and expands mental health services in communities and schools.

Thompson, who chairs the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, highlighted several steps the new law puts in motion, including closing the “Boyfriend Loophole.” Now, non-married people convicted of domestic abuse can be prohibited from owning a gun.

“We’ve been trying to close it for years and it’s been very contentious,” Thompson said.

The act also requires juvenile and mental health record checks for gun buyers under age 21, makes buying a gun for someone prohibited to own one a federal crime and provides $60 million over five years for mental health training for primary care clinicians who treat children and youth.

Carla Rodriguez, who on June 7 was elected Sonoma County’s next district attorney, praised the gun safety bill and said its closure of the “Boyfriend Loophole” in particular would “save countless” children and families.

Cregan shared that of the six homicides in the city last year, four were “direct results of gun violence.”

“It’s clear to me change is needed,” he said.

The law allocates $120 million over four years to train community members and first responders on how to respond to individuals with mental disorders, provides $500 million for qualifying school districts to increase the number of qualified mental health service providers and provides $1 billion in funding through Title IV-A to focus on improving learning conditions for schools, among other measures.

Shapiro, a local gun safety advocate, said the legislation would act as “rocket fuel” for ongoing work in the health care industry to normalize conversations around guns and gun safety.

“In the sphere of healthcare conversations around secure storage, around screening for firearms, around early intervention are things that we are only now learning how to do and to get really good at,” Shapiro said.

Walsh, another one of the speakers Thursday, drew attention to the need for better access to mental health care.

“Regardless of where a mass shooting happens, it impacts all of us,” Walsh said. “We feel it, our families feel it and yet we live in a country, in a county, in a city, in a community where getting a mental health apportionment takes weeks, even months. And where there are too few mental health professionals and where the costs of obtaining mental health care is beyond the reach of way too many families.”

Thompson said that expanding background checks remains a priority.

“There are some people who are a danger to themselves or others. They shouldn’t be anywhere near a gun,” he said. “And you can’t determine who they are unless you do the background check.”

Thompson’s bill promoting universal gun background checks on the federal level, first introduced in 2013, remains stuck in the Senate after being passed twice by the House since 2019.

Polls have consistently shown a majority of Americans favor strengthening the gun background checks.

“The only place in the world where it’s a partisan issue, is on the floor of the U.S. Senate,” Thompson said.

The news conference came on the same day the Supreme Court said gun cases involving restrictions in California and three other states deserve a new look following its major decision in a gun case last week.

In that 6-3 ruling, the court struck down a New York law that required people to show “proper cause,” a specific need to carry a gun, if they wanted to carry a gun in public. Half a dozen states have similar laws that were called into question by the ruling.

The high court told federal appeals courts to revisit cases involving laws in California and New Jersey that limit the number of bullets a gun magazine can hold. California law bans magazines holding more than 10 bullets.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 7-4 last year to uphold California’s ban.

In addition to New Jersey, the other affected states are Hawaii and Maryland.

This story includes reporting by the Associated Press.

You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or emma.murphy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @MurphReports.

Emma Murphy

County government, politics reporter

The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.

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