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House Democrats look for answers to prevent gun violence

Grace Napolitano (D-Los Angeles), foreground, serves on the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.
Grace Napolitano (D-Los Angeles), foreground, serves on the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force.

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House Democrats heard a long list of suggestions Wednesday afternoon from law enforcement and health experts about how to prevent gun violence. Gun owners also weighed in on possible legislation.

Democratic Congressman Mike Thompson of Napa County repeated the line he uses every time he introduces himself as head of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force: "I’m a hunter," he said. "I’m a gun owner and I believe that law-abiding citizens have a Second Amendment right to own firearms."

Thompson invited a pair of fellow gun owners to testify, including James Cummings, a hunter and member of the National Rifle Association. Cummings warned that any gun laws must be both practical and enforceable. He pointed out that since the original assault weapons ban expired, the number of those weapons in America has tripled.

"How you gonna get something off the market — or legislate that it should come off the market —  when you already have four million of them out in the public?"

Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, told members it’s cheaper and more effective to stop violence before it starts. He says every student should get a behavioral health checkup before starting the school year — and school counselors have to be part of the solution.

In California, Ross said there's one counselor per one thousand students, "which is among the worst such ratios in the nation. And it’s about one-fourth of the recommended standard of one counselor per 250 students." Ross said the best counselor in the world can’t keep tabs on one thousand students in their school, "and we can’t expect them to."

California Deputy Attorney General Marc LeForestier touted a state program that cross-checks registered gun owners with criminal, domestic violence, and mental health records. There are 20,000 Californians on the list who should not own guns. But LeForestier told Congressional members it’ll take a half-dozen years for state law enforcement to clear the backlog of names that need to be checked. 

The Gun Violence Prevention Task Force — created by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut incident — is made up entirely of Democrats, though Congressman Thompson says he has sought input from his GOP colleagues.