Nevada County League of Women Voters forum on gun safety draws crowd |

Nevada County League of Women Voters forum on gun safety draws crowd

A panel on gun safety hosted by the League of Women Voters brought together legislative advocate Amanda Wilcox, Grass Valley Police Chief John Foster and local physician Peter Van Houten in a wide-ranging discussion that touched on national gun control policies, local statistics and the culture of violence.

The forum Saturday morning drew at least 50 people to Peace Lutheran Church to hear the trio speak and ask questions.

“We had a lot of people I’d never seen before, which is what we like to see,” said league program planner Polly Bacich, who said she strives to put together forums on issues that will interest the community at large.

Of the audience, approximately five said they owed guns, while about seven considered themselves to have been victims of gun violence.

Wilcox’s daughter, Laura, was killed in a rampage shooting in 2001. But she told the audience she had been concerned with gun safety long before that tragedy.

The bereaved parents soon realized they needed to do more to advance the cause than send a check every year, she said. In the years since, the Wilcoxes have been tireless advocates for gun safety legislation, working with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“We are the voice of many people,” Wilcox said. “It’s quite a responsibility (and one) that we take very seriously.”

Wilcox emphasized that the campaign does not advocate a ban on firearms but simply wants to reduce gun violence and make sure prohibited people don’t have guns. She noted that the political climate in this country changed dramatically after the Newtown shootings, which she called the “final straw.”

California has the strongest gun laws in the nation, Wilcox said, adding that passing a national universal background check requirement would have a huge impact. She also discussed pending legislation, including a revamped assault weapon ban and a bill to prevent straw purchases of guns.

Foster noted that gun control and gun violence are issues that many people are very passionate about but said this should not be a political issue.

“There is no political fix to crime and violence,” he said.

According to Foster, more than 70 percent of deaths nationwide in 2011 that involved gun violence were caused by handguns.

Foster said he supports universal background and mental health checks, as well as stricter criminal penalties and prosecution for gun law violations, including gun owners who do not give due diligence to the security of weapons.

Since 2011, Foster said, Grass Valley had 10 firearms crimes, while having 32 firearms reported stolen. Most of these firearms were taken from unlocked building or vehicles, were not secured in safes or did not have trigger locks, he said.

“It’s very troubling,” he said, adding that what it needed is education and accountability.

“The assault weapons ban won’t make the difference,” he said, reiterating that handguns are the cause of most gun violence.

“People have the right to bear arms,” he said. “We need to be cautious about our response … We need dialogue, but we need to balance it with rational thinking.”

Van Houten, the founder and medical director of Sierra Family Medical Clinic, spoke about violence as a behavior that can be modified, discussing how his clinic treats all aspects of mental and physical health with the integration of behavioralists on staff.

The league meets regularly at Peace Lutheran the second Saturday morning of each month to present topics of current interest to the public. For information, call 530-265-0956 or go online at

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email or call 530-477-4229.

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