In response to recent mass shootings across the country, and just days after police officers were gunned down during a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas, about two dozen people demonstrated for gun safety across the street from a July 9 gun show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds.
“It’s time to stand up,” said demonstrator Marilee McLean, who lives in Solana Beach. “We need people to stand up. I encourage others to join us.”
Although a few people yelled derogatory comments, many people driving past honked, waved and gave a thumbs-up in support of the peaceful protestors during the hour-and-a-half demonstration on Jimmy Durante Boulevard outside the main gate of the Crossroads of the West Gun Show.
Demonstrators wore orange shirts and held a 1,000-foot long yellow banner reading “Stop gun violence, act now” from the Yellow Tape Project, a campaign advocating for what it calls responsible guns laws in America.
More than 30,000 people are killed by firearms each year in the United States. In 2013, 33,636 people died from firearm injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of those, 21,175 people committed suicide by firearm, while 11,208 people died in gun homicides.
“We’re going to be at every gun show,” said Del Mar resident Rose Ann Sharp, who organized the small peaceful protest. She said she participated in the demonstration because she doesn’t want her 8-year-old grandchild to grow up in a country with so much gun violence. “They’re going to keep hearing our message.”
It was the first demonstration by newly-formed Coastal Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. Mostly comprised of people from Del Mar and Solana Beach, the group is meeting at 3:30 p.m. July 25 at the Del Mar Community Center to finalize its name and next actions. Some of the demonstrators are also members of the national groups Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Some protestors said they support the Safety for All initiative, a measure on the state’s November ballot that would require background checks for ammunition buyers and ban large-capacity ammunition magazines, among other actions.
Other protestors held signs and simply urged people to practice gun safety by keeping firearms unloaded when not in use, using gun locks, storing firearms in a locked safe and storing ammunition separately.
“We’re not for taking away guns, we’re for keeping guns safe and preventing guns from going into the wrong hands,” said demonstrator and Del Mar resident Wayne Dernetz, former city attorney of Del Mar and Vista.
Demonstrator and Del Mar resident Penny Abell said she was inspired to join the protest because of the recent mass shootings, but also because of the number of cases of accidental injuries and deaths due to firearms.
“I decided it was time to stop sitting at home wringing my hands,” Abell said.
“It’s a small gesture,” she added, “but it’s doing something.”
San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts attended the demonstration, but did not advocate any proposals to restrict firearms. He spoke about his efforts in the county to improve mental health care as a safety measure.
One in four adults — approximately 61.5 million Americans — suffers from some mental illness every year, enduring conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“My constituents are really demanding action,” Roberts said. “They asked me to come and talk about what the county can do.”
Roberts explained that the Board of Supervisors has strived to improve mental health in the county.
The county recently celebrated the completion of the new North Inland Crisis Residential Facility in Escondido. The facility is designed to be a safe, home-like setting where individuals receive short-term housing and behavioral health treatment services.
The crisis center is the seventh of its kind in the county, but the first in the North Inland area.
The county is also opening crisis stabilization units at Palomar Forensic Health and Tri City Medical Center. These units will offer crisis stabilization for people with severe mental illness so they don’t have to utilize emergency rooms.
Additionally, last year the board expanded the number of Psychiatric Emergency Response Teams (PERT), which consist of specially-trained officers and deputies who are paired with licensed mental health professionals.
Roberts, who said he has always pushed for mental health reform, realized the need for additional teams when he was threatened at knife-point in Kearny Mesa three years ago. No PERT team arrived on scene.
“It seems that mental illness has a role in acts of violence,” said Roberts, noting that the county government is charged with public health.
“We’re making a lot of positive steps,” he added. “We believe it’s all part of the solution.”