Gun-control petition sparks debate in Solana Beach

By Joe Tash

The discussion of gun control at Solana Beach City Hall on Wednesday, April 24, revealed sharp divisions among the speakers, with one man suggesting that a proposed new gun regulation “smacks of Mussolini’s Italy.”

But after the meeting, as both sides in the debate talked quietly on the sidewalk outside council chambers, the mood became friendlier. The pastor of a local church, whose congregation wants the City Council to take action to curb gun violence, agreed to have lunch with the owner of a Solana Beach gun shop.

“The conversation has to happen,” said the Rev. David Miller of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Dieguito. “I’m happy to talk to these guys, they’re not bad people, they’re my neighbors.”

Gregg Stockwell, owner of Direct Action Solutions, a gun shop on Genevieve Street, agreed that he also wants to open up a dialogue.

“We share common ground. We want to make society safer,” said Stockwell.

The accord between the two groups represented by Miller and Stockwell may turn out to be the most significant development of Wednesday’s gun-control debate, as the City Council declined to take immediate action on a list of five requests presented by the church in a petition signed by 83 people.

The petition asked the City Council to: join the group “Mayors Against Illegal Guns”; revise the Solana Beach general plan to restrict sales of firearms to a single business; hold a gun buyback program with other cities and the county; support the 22nd Agricultural District’s responsible policies and extensive policing at gun shows; and work with the 22nd DAA to eliminate future gun shows.

Church members said they were motivated to circulate the petition by December’s shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.

Lynne Talley, a church member, told the council that the failure of federal officials to act (last week, a majority of U.S. Senators voted to expand background checks for gun buyers, but the bill died due to a Republican filibuster) puts the responsibility on local officials.

Joining the Mayor’s Against Illegal Guns “may feel like a symbolic act, but it speaks a lot to your intentions,” said Talley. “The local level is the place where action really begins.”

Council members seemed willing to join the group, but requested more information before making a final decision. Some 900 mayors from cities around the country have joined the group, including Mayor Teresa Arballo Barth of Encinitas, Mayor Bob Filner of San Diego and Mayor Cheryl Cox of Chula Vista.

While none of the council members supported restricting the number of gun shops that can operate in the city, some on the panel suggested the city may review the locations where gun shops are allowed during an upcoming overhaul of the Solana Beach general plan.

According to testimony during Wednesday’s meeting, the city currently has three licensed firearms retailers, including Direct Action Solutions.

Council members also said a gun buyback program could be a good idea, but that Solana Beach doesn’t have the money for such a program, and the city would have to partner with the county or other agencies.

Council members also opposed lobbying the 22nd DAA, which runs the Del Mar Fairgrounds, to stop holding gun shows at the facility.

“I think they do a fantastic job,” said Councilman Tom Campbell regarding the operators of the popular gun shows, which are held several times a year.

Mayor Mike Nichols said he didn’t want church members to feel like their effort went for naught, even though the council did not act on their proposals.

“I feel like you have accomplished something by just raising the issue and allowing us to have a conversation,” Nichols said.

Most of the 13 speakers opposed the church’s petition, and the idea of limiting the number of gun shops in the city took the most heat.

“I can’t imagine this council limiting (Solana Beach) to one lawyer, one doctor or one restaurant,” said Brian Brady.

“Frankly, it’s scary to me to think when church, business and government get together to create a state-sanctioned monopoly on some sort of a thing, it kind of smacks of Mussolini’s Italy,” Brady said.

John Hermsen said he appreciated what the church was trying to do, but, “Unfortunately it’s ignorant and misguided. It’s not the American way to limit businesses.”

“I have so much respect for this church for wanting to make a difference. I don’t think this petition is the way to do it,” said Jonathan Mighdoll.