A Call for Angelenos to Take the Lead on Gun Violence Prevention to Unite our American Family

Americans across the country are still mourning the killings in Tucson. Our prayers continue for the recovery of the survivors, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, and we are inspired by the courage of those who stepped in to stop the shooting and aid the victims.

At the same time, we are reminded that our nation is in peril from the insidious and pervasive threat of gun violence and an aggressive gun lobby.

Can Los Angeles lead the nation in change? We think so.

When nerves are raw, emotions high, and debate still in full swing, there is a window for people of good will to unite in reversing the needless toll of gun violence. Let us turn fear, anger, and confusion into positive action, support organizations that stem the tide of such violence, and advocate for saner, better-enforced gun laws.

From legislative reform to grass roots activism, from philanthropic funding to the volunteering of time, there is work to be done and goals to meet. While there are no guarantees against subsequent tragedies, there is immeasurable value in standing together, doing everything we can to be civic stewards, and protecting our neighborhoods, communities, and extended American family.

It is a myth that challenging the NRA on gun safety is a third rail in politics. A survey released this week by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), a bipartisan coalition of more than 550 mayors nationwide, demonstrates that there is majority support for reasonable restrictions to keep guns out of dangerous hands. The poll -- jointly conducted by a Democratic and Republican firm after the Arizona shootings -- shows that even gun owners strongly support common-sense solutions like requiring background checks for people who buy firearms at gun shows. And no one believes seriously mentally ill people should have access to guns.

Perhaps most importantly, more than half the respondents report actively re-thinking their positions on gun safety after Tucson ; of those, two-thirds support tougher laws. The public believes that better protection from gun crime is necessary -- and that it is possible without infringing the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens. Yet the gun lobby has successfully stalled gun violence prevention measures, such as the renewal of the federal assault weapons ban, which would outlaw the 30-round clips like the one that Jared Loughner used.

There are new laws that are in the works. At the state level, California lawmakers are debating a proposal that would make it illegal to carry a firearm openly. (Those who want to carry a concealed weapon in California already must apply for a permit.)

Locally, the Los Angeles City Council is considering a measure that a RAND study identified as effective in deterring the "straw purchase" of firearms -- when people who can legally buy them transfer them to those that cannot. This effort follows a package of gun violence prevention laws that the Council passed in 2008 that included a ban on the sale of .50-caliber ammunition and a provision allowing landlords to evict tenants convicted of illegally possessing weapons or ammunition.

At every level of government, elected officials can use their influence -- and Angelenos can use their votes and volunteer their time -- to support candidates who are in favor of more responsible laws. We urge everyone to regularly call and write their councilmembers, state legislators, and members of Congress. Most offices track the number of calls and letters that they get, and review the tally and comments. Raise your voices, get engaged, and do it now.

In the philanthropic arena, funding for gun safety has lagged, not nearly keeping pace with the issue's blight on society. The Los Angeles-based David Bohnett Foundation, which has granted more than $2 million in recent years to organizations working to prevent gun violence, is stepping up efforts to challenge peer philanthropies to take a new look at this area.

But giving at any level makes a difference. A check does not have to be large to contribute to a non-profit's efforts. For those who cannot donate monetarily, time is an equally precious commodity -- volunteer for phone banks, mail campaigns, planning, and events.

The range of organizations to be supported is as varied as the Angelenos that might serve them. In addition to the aforementioned MAIG, some grantees include the LA-based Women Against Gun Violence (WAGV): the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence; Common Sense About Kids and Guns; and Legal Community Against Violence (LCAV).

In its 2010 publication Gun Laws Matter: A Comparison of State Firearms Laws and Statistics, LCAV--the country's only organization devoted exclusively to providing legal assistance in support of gun violence prevention --ranked California first of all 50 states in terms of having the nation's strongest gun violence prevention legislation. We can be proud of this fact, and grateful for it, for the sake of our families and communities. We also know it is time for the people of Los Angeles to seize the moment and keep our state in the lead.

Angelenos have a meaningful opportunity to make our city a model of gun violence prevention. This is how we can best honor what happened in Tucson, and move forward with courage to a less deadly future.

This post appeared first at LA Daily News.