It has been nearly one year since the second-deadliest shooting in the U.S. in more than half a century. For both legislators and innovators in the Bay Area, the horrific events of that day in Newtown, Conn., have served as a call to action. Governmental restrictions have intensified, as have explorations into preventative technologies.
On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza shot his mother to death before going to Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunning down 20 first-graders and six teachers. The actions of the 19-year-old gunman have boosted the ongoing debate about how to reduce gun violence and improve safety in schools nationwide.
Though the federal government hasn’t passed significant firearm restrictions since 1994, “There’s been a lot of progress in California in general and San Francisco specifically that will help keep students safe,” said Cody Jacobs, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Flurry of firearm bills
In the state Legislature, a historic number of gun bills was introduced in 2013 and 11 were signed into law. Safe storage initiatives aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of people with severe mental illnesses were approved, as were stricter reporting requirements for mental health care providers.
State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, also pushed for broader implementation of 2002’s Laura’s Law, which aims to identify and treat those suffering from psychiatric disorders before they escalate to violence.
“In those situations when you feel like you’ve hit bottom, being able to get treatment could potentially save a lot of people’s lives,” said Dan Lieberman, a spokesman for Yee.
Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, co-sponsored a bill making a gun owner liable for an unsecured firearm that lands in the hands of a minor.
“A law like that is going to help prevent school shootings by helping prevent kids from getting access to guns in the first place,” Jacobs said.
“Large-capacity ammunition magazines have been a common thread in a lot of mass shootings,” added Jacobs, and a common thread in legislation as well. A state law now bans the use of “conversion kits,” which enable average rifles to be outfitted with magazines that turn them into assault-style weapons.
At Sandy Hook, Lanza unloaded 154 rounds of ammunition from a .223-caliber semi-automatic Bushmaster rifle, a controversial weapon he had stolen from his mother.
A city law passed by the Board of Supervisors in October banned the possession of high-capacity magazines altogether, though only their manufacture, sale and purchase are prohibited under state law.
“[Adam] Lanza used a popular Magpul polymer 30-round magazine and it is now illegal in San Francisco,” said Supervisor Malia Cohen, who authored the bill.
The law, which is among the first of its kind in a U.S. city, isn’t without its opponents. Larry Barsetti, secretary of the San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association and a plaintiff in a National Rifle Association lawsuit against The City in response to the ban, argues that it infringes on his Second Amendment rights and that it won’t succeed in making San Franciscans or their schools safer.
“A six-shot revolver is just as dangerous as a 50-round, auto-loading pistol,” Barsetti said. “Shot placement is all that really counts. Taking away the machine is not going to do it. “I like the smart gun answer, but we don’t have the technology. When we get the technology, I think that’s the obvious answer.”
Development of that technology has intensified this year as well. In March, Silicon Valley luminaries partnered with a nonprofit founded by those closest to the tragedy for the San Francisco launch of the Sandy Hook Promise Innovation Initiative to seek nonlegislative solutions.
Bay Area entrepreneurs Jim Pitkow and Don Kendall, along with angel investor Ron Conway, also created the Smart Tech Foundation to host a series of innovation challenges, inspired by the work of Sandy Hook Promise. They will “focus on the role of innovation, the power of free markets and the creation of hopefully new technologies that enable the reduction of gun violence,” Pitkow said.
One of Pitkow’s goals, after consulting with school administrators, is to develop a walkie-talkie-type smartphone app that will broadcast directly through teachers’ cellphones during crisis situations, replacing the antiquated centralized public-address systems common in most K-12 schools.
In late January, the foundation plans to announce a million-dollar challenge “asking innovators to go out there and build technology for firearms that make them safe and block unauthorized use,” Pitkow said. This is likely to include biometric technologies, such as fingerprint scanning, to ensure that only a gun’s registered owner can fire it.
Despite the ramped-up focus on gun restrictions locally, incidents do still arise. In San Francisco — where, according to police, the 293 gunshots fired in the first 10 months of 2013 struck 194 victims — a 16-year-old brought a loaded, sawed-off shotgun to his Portola district high school last week.
IF YOU GO
Several events for the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting are planned in San Francisco:
A vigil will be held featuring speakers such as state Sen. Leland Yee; Supervisors John Avalos, Malia Cohen and David Campos; Public Defender Jeff Adachi; and Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi. 1 p.m., steps of City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, S.F.
The Highground Hackers Symposium for Sandy Hook: Gun Violence Reduction & Mental Health will feature demonstrations of technologies created by the Highground Hackers as well as talks by experts in various fields, including mental health, neuroscience, government and technology. Mayor Ed Lee and angel investor Ron Conway are scheduled to give speeches. 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Twilio, 645 Harrison St., S.F. Registration at www.eventbrite.com ends at 8 a.m. Saturday.
The Beyond Newtown Rally will feature speakers such as U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier, state Sen. Mark Leno, Robyn Thomas of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and others. 2 p.m., U.N. Plaza, Civic Center, S.F. Prior to the rally, a youth march will begin at noon at Gene Friend Recreation Center, 270 Sixth St., S.F., and culminate at U.N. Plaza.
Correction: This article was updated Dec. 13, 2014. An earlier version of this article incorrectly implied that the Sandy Hook Promise and the Smart Tech Foundation initiative are related. The Smart Tech Foundation was inspired by the Sandy Hook Promise.