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North Side forum tackles mass shootings

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In wake of the recent deadly episodes in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, District 8 Councilman Manny Peláez has launched a series of town hall meetings focusing on mass shootings.

The first session was Aug. 14 at Hardberger Park’s Urban Ecology Center; more than 60 residents attended.

“People came together and exchanged ideas in a respectful way and learned from each other. There’s nothing more valuable,” Peláez said.

On Aug. 3, a gunman fatally shot 22 people and injured about two dozen more at a Walmart in El Paso. Just 13 hours later, a single armed man killed 9 people and wounded 27 others some 1,600 miles away in Dayton.

Panelists representing the fields of religion, mental health and mass communication spoke first, followed by a survey and audience input.

Many attendees indicated “charged political rhetoric and racism” was responsible for the El Paso shooting; some wanted a ban on assault-style weapons.

“I think we need to talk more about guns. A lot of people are uncomfortable about that,” said Robert “Abe” Abraham, who lives in Oakland Heights. “I think the problem is more about (magazine) capacity than anything else.”

Abraham, a gun owner, primarily uses weapons to feed his family by hunting deer.

By a slim margin, audience members surveyed didn’t own guns.

Panelists touched on looking into the underlying causes of firearm violence, along with how such crimes intersect with community trauma, domestic violence and mental health.

Mara Nathan, senior rabbi at Temple Beth-El; Terri Mabrito, executive director for the National Alliance on Mental Illness San Antonio; and Bill Israel, a journalist, author and associate dean and professor at St. Mary’s University, were among others on the panel.

Peláez began the proceedings by stating America is the deadliest industrialized country for mass shootings, but also ranks 10th on a list of top 20 nations beset by gun violence.

Nathan said there are real psychological differences in the way people look at the world. Whether they live in fear or they’re aware of fear, both are valid, she said.

“I worry that if we succumb to always being on the defensive, if we are always locking our doors and putting up our barriers higher and higher, we’re not actually solving the problem,” Nathan said.

Mabrito focused on a lack of understanding about mental illness and isolation, plus the role social media plays.

“If we isolate ourselves … then we have allowed anger … to prevail,” said John Voss, a Shavano Ridge resident.

Eva Perez, from Whispering Ridge, spoke several times. She responded to a comment about what constitutes an “assault” weapon.

“I don’t like to get mired down with the definition of what an assault rifle is, I only care about the number of people who can die in less than 30 seconds,” Perez said.

M. Leslie Palmer, a former District 8 resident, said it’s not enough anymore for politicians to give only condolences and nothing more in the wake of mass murders.

“We’ve been offering thoughts and prayers for decades, and I believe in thinking kindly of people, and I believe in praying for people,” she said. “Maybe it’s a part of the solution, but it’s not the only solution.”

Another mass shooting reported Aug. 31 in Midland and Odessa claimed at least seven lives.

On Aug. 15, City Council passed a resolution appealing for federal and state action to end gun violence.

“We must refuse to sit idly by while communities are shattered. Today, we resolve to call on all governments to assist us in protecting our community,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a release.

The council requested that Gov. Greg Abbott authorize a special session so to consider the proposals in his School and Firearm Safety Action Plan, which included a red-flag law or “extreme protective orders.” Abbott released the plan in 2018, but it wasn’t addressed during this year’s legislative term.

The council also urged the U.S. Senate to begin deliberations on bipartisan gun-safety legislation already approved by the House.

Also, council members Jada Andrews-Sullivan and John Courage are floating an initiative to have the city sponsor a voluntary gun buyback program. One suggestion: to use San Antonio Police Department asset forfeiture funds to buy back the guns returned by residents.

“The buyback program’s goal is to reduce gun violence by reducing the number of firearms in circulation and preventable, accidental deaths,” the council members said in joint statement.

The next town hall helmed by Peláez took place at Central Library in late August and another is Sept. 10.

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