WatchSonoma Watch

Overflow Santa Rosa crowd divided over adding gun controls


Madeleine Melo of Fort Bragg, widow of the North Coast’s most prominent recent victim of gun violence, spoke out Thursday night in defense of gun ownership at a public forum convened by Rep. Mike Thompson.

“I strongly support our right to own and use guns,” Melo told Thompson and six other public officials before an overflow crowd in the Sonoma County supervisors chambers in Santa Rosa.

An overflow crowd fills the hallways Thursday night during a public forum on preventing gun violence at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

In her next sentence, Melo, whose husband Jere Melo was murdered in the Mendocino County woods in 2011, said the “unchecked acts of violent criminals take away the rights of others to live a safe and protected life.”

Dozens of other speakers also bracketed the nation’s current debate over firearms and mass murder — sharply dividing over the prospect of added gun controls but agreeing that more mental health services are needed, especially for youths.

Ted Heinrich of Santa Rosa said he was “appalled by the reckless distribution of firearms in this country” and saying loopholes render gun regulations “meaningless.”

Mike Malone, a geologist, said it is “obvious to me there are those who oppose the Second Amendment” and that California gun owners are “in constant jeopardy of being criminalized.”

Thompson, D-St. Helena, a hunter and gun owner, was appointed chairman of the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force in the wake of the Dec. 14 massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school.

He opened the public forum by declaring that it is “not a hearing on the Second Amendment” and noting that there is “no magic wand that can be waved” to prevent another such tragedy.

More than 800 people have been killed by guns nationwide since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Thompson said.

Madeleine Melo said she has struggled with the issue of guns “every day since Jere’s murder,” which occurred in August 2011 in the forest east of Fort Bragg. His killer, Aaron Bassler, was shot dead by law enforcement snipers after a 36-day manhunt.

Bassler used a semi-automatic weapon that was given to him by a family member, Melo said.

But she also noted that Ian Chaney, who was with her husband in the woods that day, shot back at Bassler and was able to escape.

“If he did not have that gun, Ian would not be standing here today,” she said, accompanied by Chaney at the microphone.

Melo called for enforcement “of the laws we already have” and said gun owners “have a responsibility to keep those guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, drug users and convicted criminals.”

James Johnson, a retired school psychologist, called for “clear and available help” for all students manifesting mental health problems. Johnson said some students reach age 12 or 13 who are “clearly out of control.”

Margaret Fishman, who described herself as a “liberal Democrat” and a gun owner, called for a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a step Thompson also has endorsed.

She also criticized the National Rifle Association, saying it represents gun manufacturers’ profits, and “does not speak for all gun owners.”

Russell Kloer of Sonoma said he is leery “when fear and hysteria take over” the debate on guns. The NRA offers a program to educate people to be “safe around firearms,” he said.

John Davis was one of several speakers who faulted the idea of making schools gun-free zones. “All that says to the criminals is, ‘Come in and shoot me,’ ” he said.

Gary Lucas said that mass killers should be consigned to anonymity, denying them the “element of immortality.”

“Get the media to quit naming the names (of killers),” he said.

Thompson took issue with several speakers who asserted that “psychotropic drugs” were a factor in mass murders, saying he had heard the same comment in two previous public forums but has found no evidence for it.

“We can’t track it down,” Thompson said.

Ken Cavalli of Sonoma faulted government attempts to deal with gun violence and other issues. “The phrase, ‘I’m from the government, I’m here to help’ scares me,” he said.

Kathy Graham of Mendocino County, who identified herself as a recruiter for the NRA and a grandmother, said the organization teaches children how to use firearms.

“Children need to know how to protect themselves,” she said.

A long line formed outside the county Administration Building 30 minutes before the forum started, and about 150 people sat and stood inside the supervisors’ chambers, with many more in the lobby and hallway outside. More than 70 people signed up to speak.

The official panelists, who made brief comments at the beginning of the meeting, included five Sonoma County officials: Sheriff Steve Freitas, District Attorney Jill Ravitch, Mental Health Director Mike Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington and Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt, along with Blake Graham, a state Department of Justice special agent.

Graham said the Justice Department conducted 601,000 background checks on gun buyers in 2011, 812,000 checks last year and 27,000 so far in 2013.

He said 1.1 percent of the people who apply to buy weapons are denied, and about 19,000 people who legally bought weapons have since been disqualified from ownership.

Thompson said his task force, which consists of 12 other House Democrats, will develop legislative recommendations by the first week in February.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

23 Responses to “Overflow Santa Rosa crowd divided over adding gun controls”

  1. mark says:

    Terry, you have your interpretation exactly backwards. It insures that in order to have a secure state, that individuals have the right to bear arms, Not that the states have the rights to have a militia so that citizens can bear arms. Its a common mistake among many liberals today who are trying to remove our rights in order to secure a nation that serves the government best, not a government that serves the people the best. In fact, Thomas Jefferson suggested that a gun be your companion at “all times”. Many founders stated that it was our DUTY to own and bear arms and make it our daily duty to ensure the freedom of the people. It was also stated that the purpose of the people was to ensure the integrity of the government, not the government’s job to ensure the integrity of the people. Today’s liberals have it backwards to the point that they are asking for the complete and utter failure of our country without realizing that they are causing it themselves.

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  2. mark says:

    The problem is that we have people trying to regulate gun control who do not know the first thing about guns. I’ve seen young teenagers outshoot lifelong shooters and competitors while he used a late 1980′s single action handgun and late 1900′s lever action rifle. The competition was to hit as many targets as possible and it required reloading. His competition used a fully automatic submachine gun, a ump45, using 30 round magazines. The submachine gun lost. So how will removing high cap magazines help when someone can learn to use 100+ year old weapons with better effectiveness? You shouldn’t allow people to write laws about driving who do not understand cars, just as you should not allow someone who does not understand guns to write laws about guns. Most democrats who are for gun control do not realize that when they try and limit our right to own guns, (the purpose as stated by the constitution being to keep a strong militia, not just hunting) they are asking for a war that they do not understand and cannot possibly win.

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  3. FedUp says:

    Rep. Thompson was correct in noting that “not a hearing on the Second Amendment” but failed to note the 2nd Amendment is irrelevant. The right to self-defense is a natural right which was protected, not conferred, by the Constitution. Those us who live in the sticks no well that we’re on our own and help, if it comes at all, would come only in time to string yellow tape and chalk the outlines. No one can infringe my right to self-preservation nor prevent me from obtaining firepower available to an adversary. Pass whatever law you want, I an millions like me will continue to ignore them.

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  4. MOCKINGBIRD says:

    Dan Drummond, I wonder if people know that Shirley Temple was a Republican? See you all, social consciousnness and being a Republican CAN go together in one body.

    We are talking large capacity magazines and weapons of mass destruction not your hunting guns. I like the analogy of an atomic bomb one of the posters mentioned below. Hey, why not gun nuts? Why limit ANY weapon you might want to “protect” yourselves from the government?

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  5. Follower says:

    There is NO WAY Biden is going to crumple up his little list & throw it in the trash were it belongs.

    We ARE going to have new “Gun Control” laws!

    It will start with Registration.

    Once they have THAT “list” they can begin the squeeze.

    They will come at us from all fronts.

    The EPA will regulate bullets since they’re made with the “Toxin” lead.

    There will be “adjustments” to the regulations.

    New “fees” for people on “The List”.

    You name & address published in the local paper.

    Eventually the only people who will be able to purchase and own guns will be “The Rich”.

    And after a couple generations people will become accustom to the Government controlling and diluting your “right” to bear arms. Accustom to only a small handful of manufacturers surviving the new regulations and restrictions.

    Then the outright BANS and confiscation’s can commence.

    That’ll be right about the same time that most Health Insurance companies have folded under THEIR new regulations and we will all (except “The Rich”) be left with NO CHOICE but to hop on the Government Health plan or risk one of the 17,000 new IRS agents knocking at your door!

    This will be the NEW America!
    Obama’s America.

    Where we all stand together on our knees waiting for the Government to mend our illnesses, feed, cloth & house us and defend us against well armed criminals with little regard for the laws we are about to pass.


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  6. Phil Maher says:

    Assault weapons aka: “black guns”. What gun would Darth Vader use? That’s the one I want. Happy and nice guns could be required to be painted in bright, pleasing colors, although they might then somehow be automatically associated with gangs. Maybe all things that the government wants banned can be painted “black”. Then, stick some kind of warning label on it to enlighten us to the obvious, and you have a recipe for full compliance. Problem solved. I fear the government and the simple minded far more than I could ever fear the average gun owner. Whatever way one decides to interpret the 2nd Amendment in a modern light, there was no way that the framers of the Constitution, with a revolution against tyranny and oppression still fresh in their minds, saw it any differently, or realized that the people had a right to rise up, challenge and overcome an assault on their freedoms with equal capability, regardless of the times and the technology.

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  7. brown act Jack says:

    If you can not regulate the voting rights of the citizens, why should you try to regulate the right to bear arms?

    After all the same crazies that kill people with guns , vote and elect people who kill people with guns, don’t they?

    I feel that if you are registered to vote, you should also received a concealed weapons permit with your registration so that you can defend yourself when needed,

    If you allow nuts to vote, you should allow the same nuts to carry concealed weapons!

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  8. James Bennett says:

    Interesting choice of words framing the story; “devided”. Didn’t look too devided to those who were there. Looked like a bunch of pissed off people. It looked good to me.

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  9. Not A Chace says:

    @James Bennett


    Not A Chance your vague threats scare me over a controlled internet forum! Not A Chance at all, even.

    But, seriously, I gotta go, my gold currency needs burying in the back yard.

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  10. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ Terry…. you are misreading, or perhaps intentionally distorting, both the Heller and MacDonald opinions. You may want to go back through them and reference the “arms in common use” doctrine that the decisions put in place. Your screed below is going a long way to putting words in Justice Scalia’s mouth he did not say or write.

    The semi-automatic AR-15, not the fully automatic M-16 which is already heavily regulated and not legal at all in California, is by way of it’s sales over the past few decades pretty much the most commonly owned / used arm in private hands. While the Supreme Court, correctly, held that some regulation was possible and indeed prudent (i.e. felons in possession, forbidding firearms from those adjudged by a court to be mentally deficient, etc.) the court held that additional regulation would have to pass, at minimum, the common use test.

    Courts across the country are still deciding just what the standards of scrutiny will be for Second Amendment cases post McDonald.

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  11. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    Being a text based forum, none of this brave rhetoric is spoken in the flesh.
    In an audio based forum, however, there absolutely is a chance that it could be spoken boldly out loud.

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  12. Terry says:

    I hear so many people mentioning the second amendment and I can just about guarantee that most don’t know what it says and certainly most don’t know what the Supreme Ct has ruled in its regard.

    It states, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”

    The Supreme Ct has ruled that this, the infringement clause, applies to the Federal government and that the states have the right to regulate militias. They have ruled that the first clause (the militia clause) trumps the second clause (bear arms clause). In other words, the amendment confers to the states the right to form militias which bear arms. It does not guarantee that each individual can purchase any weapon they chose whether it be a nuclear bomb, or an assault rifle. It allows the states to “regulate(d)” militias and thereby weapons (guns).

    However, in 2008 the Supreme Court also ruled that the amendment does protect an individual’s right to certain weapons in an effort to protect themselves. They held that handguns cannot be banned.

    In this ruling Justice Scalia stated that the amendment covers only arms that “have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia.” Scalia acknowledged that the Second Amendment only protects arms that would be used in a militia. He makes clear that “M-16 rifles and the like, have no Second Amendment protection and may be banned.” Justice Scalia, by the way, is pro-gun advocate and a very conservative interpreter of the Constitution and yet even he had to admit that the government can regulate guns and yes even ban them in certain instances.

    You may not like the history, or even how the founders worded the amendment, but those are the facts folks…like it or not.

    No one is talking about banning guns people. Thompson, the president and most rational humans are talking about REGULATING them. This is within the power of the state to do being granted by the US Constitution. The question becomes to what extent and by whom, the federal government, or state governments.

    Unfortunately many in the hearing room the other night neither understand our constitution nor want to even hear what it has to say in this regard. Like most things, we want to dogmatically hold to our preconceived notions and ignore history and the facts. We live in a culture of anger and fear, and I’m afraid that this is what sits at the center of these mass shootings…our desperate cultural need to see others who disagree with us as evil or out to take something away from us.
    Think about it.

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  13. James Bennett says:

    NOT A CHANCE; that this brave rhetoric would be used in person.

    No chance at all.

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  14. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    The U.N. acts as the world’s conscience, and over eighty-five percent of the work that is done by the United Nations is in the social, economic, educational and cultural fields. ~Shirley Temple

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  15. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    The United Nations is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world. ~Ralph Bunche

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  16. Kirstin says:

    Congressman Thompson: tell us why Congress is focusing on impinging on or even unconstitutionally eliminating citizens’ rights to keep and bear arms INSTEAD of fulfilling its Congressional responsibility to oversee federal departments and agencies. Why aren’t you demanding answers about why the federal government has thus far bought up over 1.6 BILLION bullets, many of them hollow points which, as you know, tear up bodies in very grisly ways and have been banned in warfare by various historical edicts? This stockpile could kill everyone in the U.S. five times over and more. You in Congress have a duty not only to find out why this is happening but you have a duty to stop it. Citizens have a right to defend themselves. Our government has no right to amass ammunition against its own citizens.

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  17. Robert says:

    The question of an executive order came up last night Thompson read off the list of items the president can affect with an executive order. Altering the Bill of Rights was not there. Not that he wont try, but i woul dbe illegal and congress knows that now. I own a lot of guns and I am not concerned. Of course I also have the property to bury my guns if need be.

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  18. Taxpayer says:

    Bats and hammers kill more people than guns.How can you regulate household items?

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  19. Not A Chance says:

    That had to have been the largest group of whacked out nut jobs I had ever been in a room with.

    Wait, gotta go, theres a black helicopter over my house and my tinfoil hat is tingling.

    RON PAUL 1912!!!!

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  20. James Bennett says:

    Well, finally this oppression pushed a button that lit up. A button that got folks off the couch. Interesting that this is finally the button.

    This is a UN directive, along with plans to control the internet, commerce, water, energy, land and everything else.

    This isn’t unchartered groud.

    We have the benefit of irrefutable statistics, current and past history to tell us what happens when a society is disarmed. The statistics are NEVER favorable for the populace, to say the least.

    Between this and a possible audit of the FED. Maybe people will wake up, connect some dots.

    Word has it our dictator in the White House has an “Executive Order” forthcoming regarding a breach of our second amendment rights.

    Fasten your holster…er, seat belt.

    Don’t care much for guns, care a lot about the protection of our freedoms.

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  21. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    Presently, 17 states regulate private firearm sales at gun shows.
    7 states require background checks on all gun sales at gun shows (California, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Oregon, New York, Illinois and Colorado). Certain counties in Florida require background checks on all private sales of handguns at gun shows.
    4 states require background checks on all handguns, but not long gun, purchasers at gun shows (Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania).
    6 states require individuals to obtain a permit to purchase handguns that involves a background check (Massachusetts, Michigan, North Carolina, Iowa, and Nebraska).
    The remaining 33 states do not restrict private, intrastate sales of firearms at gun shows in any manner.
    ~ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_shows_in_the_United_States#cite_ref-16

    100% background checks – thumbs up
    0% background checks – thumbs down

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  22. R.B. Fish says:

    Many many apreciations to all the people who attended in favor of telling the government to leave the second amendment alone!!! Keep and get more guns expecially for self protection. Do not let Finsteins bill pass.

    Liberalism ugly head will keep rising for along time.

    Thanks for attending. I live too far away.

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  23. Jim says:

    What a waste of time! You have one side, and you have the other side. This will never change. Then you have opportunistic politicians trying to gain favor with voters by speaking out. Open your eyes people. This is all about political points.

    In this article a murderer was mentioned. Some scumbag named Bassler. He murdered someone using a “semiautomatic” handgun GIVEN TO HIM BY A FAMILY MEMBER. Hmmm, what new government restriction would have prevented that?

    Note…in the time I wrote this response, how many people were killed by gang members and criminals? You think ANY new government law, regulation, oversight board, etc will prevent an MS-13 member from getting an automatic MP5? Give me a break.

    But hey, some lunatic in some part of this massive country did something…let’s expand the government further to pretend we’re addressing the problem. That’ll at least get them re-elected, which is all the politicians care about. Remember, restrict guns to the citizens but make sure the elites in Washington have armed guards at their children’s school. Obama’s kids do.

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