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COURSEY: Local voices important in national gun debate

Published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 4:08 p.m.

We all know that the pen is mightier than the sword, but is the keyboard louder than the gun?

The question arises this week as local officials jump into the national debate about regulating firearms. Rather than passing laws of their own, our local representatives are writing letters in support — or opposition to — efforts to address the issue on the national level.

The city councils of Petaluma and Santa Rosa voted this week to send letters in support of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's effort to renew and expand the federal ban on assault weapons. The ban was passed in 1994 but expired after 10 years. Feinstein's new bill would ban weapons with magazines of more than 10 rounds, require background checks for certain weapons, establish a buyback program for weapons and exempt from the ban more than 2,200 guns used largely by sportsmen.

Other cities also have been asked by Feinstein to support the new bill.

But some citizens — as well as Petaluma Councilman Mike Harris, who opposed sending the council's support letter — say local officials have no business mucking around in the affairs of federal government.

“It is a slippery slope if we keep taking on federal issues,” Harris said during his council's discussion of the letter. “What is next, are we going to start discussing the atrocities in Darfur or take a position on freeing Leonard Peltier or drone usage in Petaluma?”

Well, probably not. But if, say, citizens of Petaluma began using drones to kill their spouses in their homes or take out strangers during drunken brawls on Friday nights, I expect that the City Council might want to weigh in on whether drones should be regulated by the state or federal government.

The point being that the City Council, unfortunately, has little stake and less influence on the situation in Darfur or the status of Peltier. Gun violence, on the other hand, affects nearly every community on an all-too-regular basis. And at a time when the gun-happy National Rifle Association wields an outsized influence on the debate, it is perfectly appropriate for community leaders to express their feelings regarding an issue that may be the legal purview of state and federal officials, but that has real and bloody consequences on our streets and in our neighborhoods every day.

I, for one, am pleased and proud that my City Council unanimously supports Feinstein's efforts. You, on the other hand, may feel more like Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman, who said recently that he plans to join his colleagues in the Texas-based Constitutional Sheriffs and Police Officers Association in a letter-writing campaign opposing new federal gun restrictions.

Allman, explaining his reasoning for writing to President Obama and other federal officials, told staff writer Paul Payne that “in Mendocino County, we're very supportive of the Second Amendment.” Meanwhile, Petaluma Mayor David Glass said in his city the “overwhelming sentiment” is supportive of restricting assault weapons. And in Santa Rosa, Councilman and former police officer Ernesto Olivares said support for Feinstein's bill is “about reducing gun violence. I am not anti-gun, but I am anti-violence. We all should be.”

They all have opinions. I have opinions. You have opinions. Now is the time to express them.

Feinstein said recently, “I think I can get it (the assault weapons ban) passed because the American people are very much for it.” But she also said she faces an uphill fight against the NRA and its supporters in Congress. She has asked for support from local leaders because she knows that the loudest voices historically have been on the other side.

So, whether you sit on a city council or carry a badge or don't pack anything more powerful than a laptop, don't pass up the chance to make your voice part of this debate.

Chris Coursey's blog offers a community commentary and forum, from issues of the day to the ingredients of life in Sonoma County.

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