Sycamores CEO Debra Manners and Sycamores Chief Public Policy and Advocacy Officer Wendy Wang were among the distinguished guests included in State Senator Anthony Portantino’s Virtual Townhall Meeting: Gun Violence, Safety, and Trauma last month.
The respected panel of experts also included LA County’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Robert Luna; California’s preeminent researcher on gun violence and gun safety, the founding director of the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program, Dr. Garen Wintemute; and behavioral health expert, California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies CEO Dr. Le Ondra Clark.
Senator Portantino, who has made supporting mental health and sensible gun control top priorities during his time in office, lead this important discussion. Portantino asked relevant questions including some provided by the audience who watched the virtual event in real time. The group discussed the problems surrounding gun violence, safety, and trauma that our society faces today. These issues were addressed from a variety of perspectives, including the effectiveness of sensible gun laws, how mental health is impacted by exposure to violence and trauma, and what we can do about it.
Dr. Wintemute shared data about firearm violence in California compared to other parts of the country and dispelled the myth that gun laws do not work. Wintemute noted that the rate of firearm homicide in California is well below the average for the country. He added, “Our rate of firearm suicide is among the lowest of the 50 states.”
Sheriff Luna made the case for increased funding to improve technology and collect data to identify individuals who should not have guns. Luna also strongly supports having other professionals, like Sycamores’ Mobile Crisis Outreach Teams, responding to non-violent mental health related calls rather than law enforcement officers. He stated, “We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we’ve got to do it together.”
The group discussed the importance of increasing access to mental health care for everyone. Wendy Wang shared that Sycamores is providing Mental Health First Aid Training to law enforcement officers and others to help them recognize and respond to a mental health crisis.
Although mental illness is often blamed in the national dialogue, it is not the cause of gun violence in most cases. However, Dr. Clark said that exposure to violence can have a lasting impact, actually changing peoples’ nervous systems – especially if it is not treated early. She also mentioned the importance of taking a “media break” to limit exposure to violence in the news.
Debra Manners shared that we see the consequences of being around violence in the home and the community in the children and families we work with at Sycamores, “The greater the exposure to gun violence, the trauma or the wounds that the children experience – over time, it kind of normalizes that violent behavior.” She also stressed the importance of keeping all our children safe and breaking the cycle. “We know that kids that do not live in safe environments are often the grown-ups that commit the crimes.”
The meeting concluded on a note of qualified hopefulness – that working together we can achieve different outcomes in the future and end the cycle of violence. The participants expressed their gratitude to Senator Portantino for his leadership and courage hosting the Townhall Meeting. The Virtual Townhall Meeting is available to watch in its entirety here: