Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Rep. Mike Thompson team up to take on gun violence
Like a lot of productive ideas, this one was born of sweat.
As three Wine Country cycling buddies rode past the historic Veterans Home in Yountville in 2018, they were struck by the magnitude of what had recently occurred there: two Pathway Home directors and a pregnant psychologist shot to death by a former soldier with PTSD, who then killed himself. That incident came just 23 days after a gunman had opened fire at Stoneham Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, murdering 17 people, most of them students.
The cyclists — Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena; Napa County Sheriff John Robertson, and marketing professional Rebecca Kotch — resolved to turn their anguish into action.
“It was on all our minds,” Thompson reflected. “I said, ‘We should do something to commemorate these lives and raise awareness. How about a bike ride?’ The sheriff spoke up and said we should do burritos and bubbles after. For the next 10-15 miles, we talked about particulars of what we wanted do, and how to do it.”
Now they’re gearing up for the fourth annual Rock the Ride event this Saturday. It’s still constructed around cycling, burritos, sparkling wine and, underpinning everything, a push to talk about the 21,115 American lives that had been claimed by guns violence in 2021, as of Tuesday. The figure, compiled by the Gun Violence Archive, includes homicides, suicides and accidental shootings.
The highlight of Rock the Ride this year will be an online noon conversation between Thompson and Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, a pair of outspoken gun safety advocates.
Kerr’s interest is deeply personal. His father, Malcolm H. Kerr, was president of the American University of Beirut in 1984 when he was shot dead by gunmen in the hallway outside his office.
Since becoming Warriors coach in 2014, Steve Kerr has gradually but constantly amplified his voice on the topic. He frequently engages media after mass shootings, and has taken part in numerous gun-related roundtables and interviews. On March 23, after new, deadly mass shootings in Boulder, Colorado, and Atlanta, he appeared in a video and spoke of “the most disgusting thing that exists in our country” as the names of 18 combined victims appeared behind him.
Kerr has a willing political partner in Thompson, chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force. Thompson, a Vietnam War combat veteran, is a hunter and gun owner who for years has sought what he sees as sensible limits on the sales, movements and power of firearms.
Lately, much of Thompson’s effort has focused on H.R. 8, the House Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. The bill, which he first introduced in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, would extend mandatory checks to all firearms transfers, including gun shows and personal transactions, though it contains a number of exemptions. The House of Representatives passed H.R. 8 on March 11, but it faces a predictably bruising fight in the U.S. Senate.
Thompson has been working closely with Sen. Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, to build a coalition. Murphy thought he was making progress with Sen. John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, until late last week when “Cornyn flaked out,” as Thompson put it. Now Murphy is talking to another Republican senator, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
Graham is open to expanding background checks, Thompson said, but only for gun shows.
“That was my first bill, to close the gun show loophole,” Thompson said. “I’m all for closing it. I don’t think it’s all we need to do. But if that’s all we can get from Senate Republicans, I’m happy to get that. I just want to make sure (Graham) doesn’t flake out, too.”
Saturday’s conversation, streamable via a link on the RocktheRideNapa.com site, will be moderated by Dr. Mark Shapiro, a Santa Rosa native, hospitalist at Santa Rosa Memorial and, for more than six years now, host of Explore the Space, a podcast that examines the interface between health care and society.
Shapiro was introduced to gun culture during his medical studies in Houston. He saw the family traditions that seemed like harmless fun, but also the huge numbers of hospital admissions related to firearms.