by David Safier
Thursday evening, the Foothills Democratic Forum held its second session discussing gun violence. The speakers were Pam Simon, former Community Outreach Coordinator for Gabby Giffords who was injured in the January 8 shooting, City Council member Steve Kozachik and State Representative Victoria Steele.
Since Simon was shot, she has retired and is now working full time as an advocate for sensible gun legislation. She spoke briefly about the shooting but mostly talked about her experiences meeting with elected officials from the White House to the local level as well as other people who were shooting victims or family members of people who were shot. She spoke about the committed network of people and organizations pushing for education and legislation to curb gun violence. Her passionate activism has a kind, caring tone to it, echoing her years as a teacher.
Steve Kozachik brought a harder edge to his talk than Simon, as we have come to expect from Steve, but his genuine passion for the issue was clear. He began by holding up one of the gun locks his office is giving out free of charge. Here in Tucson, we usually think of the modest gun buyback event he created as a local issue, but Kozachik said it's gotten national and international coverage, including a Japanese news team that followed him around to get a story. Google "Tucson + gun + buyback," and you get 153,000 results. Tucson as a progressive city in right wing Arizona and the site of one of the prominent recent shootings has a more important place in the gun violence controversy than we locals sometimes realize.
Victoria Steele, a first-time state rep, spoke of her attempts to get a hearing for her bills relating to gun violence. Her attempt to create a Home Rule bill that would allow cities and counties to pass their own gun laws went nowhere, of course. But another bill, HB2570, is still alive, though just barely. It would allocate more funding for Mental Health First Aid training. This is a non-controversial proposal to hold trainings for people across the state that would help them recognize mental health problems and educate them about ways they, as non-professionals, can offer help. The bill is short enough, I can quote it in full:
The sum of $500,000 is appropriated from the state general fund in fiscal year 2013-2014 to the department of health services for the expansion of the mental health first aid program.
Steele and her Republican LD-11 counterpart Ethan Orr cosponsored the bill. Steele knew as a Democrat, she couldn't get a hearing on a solo bill. Orr deserves credit for taking the risk of alienating other Republican legislators by sponsoring a bipartisan bill. Out of necessity, Steele has allowed the funding for the bill to be trimmed — something is better than nothing, she said — but she's still having trouble getting it heard in the Appropriations Committee. Republicans don't want to oppose such a reasonable bill openly — after all, they're trying to divert attention from gun regulation by trying to make this a mental health issue — so the easiest thing to do is not give the bill a hearing.
Steele, a counselor, was adamant that we must not equate mental health problems with violence and we must not allow the mental health issue to take our focus away from the need for gun regulation. Nonetheless she, like Ron Barber, believes we have to increase our awareness of and treatment for mental health problems.