YWCA Berkeley/Oakland Hosts Gun Violence Prevention Workshop for Week Without Violence

By Jenna Colliflower

This year the YWCA Berkeley/Oakland’s Week Without Violence was centered around ending gender-based violence, including partner violence and sexual harassment. One particular workshop that was held during the week was focused on gun violence and certain policies that actually perpetuate this type of violence.

The event kicked off with a simulation where each attendee acted as an agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). During the simulation, agents had to scan through a few pages of serial numbers of guns to match up the number with the individual who purchased it. Many of the numbers were similar making it incredibly difficult and time consuming to find the correct one. After finally finding the right number, the agents had to go to the ‘gun store’ and ask the owner about the gun’s purchase history. Then, the agents went to the ‘police’ to get more details about the case, and ask about what ended up happening with the case.

There were four cases, each highlighting different gun policy loopholes, and ways to prevent these instances of gun violence. Firstly, individuals can buy and sell weapons online and at gun shows without a background check and without keeping records of those transactions. Federal law only requires background checks on licensed dealers. Secondly, without safe storage laws, it is incredibly easy for children to access their parents’ guns, which are typically kept unlocked and unloaded in easy to reach places. In addition to safe storage laws, new smart gun technology, such as using your fingerprint to unlock your gun, can eradicate this issue. Thirdly, one of the  most common forms of gun violence is suicide by a firearm. This means of suicide is particularly lethal, meaning individuals who try to take their life with a gun usually succeed in doing so. Without mental health treatment records getting submitted to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), mentally unstable individuals can impulsively buy a firearm and take their own life or the lives of others. Waiting periods can also help alleviate this issue by forcing the individual to think about their decision for a few days before they can physically purchase the gun. Lastly, in certain states, if background checks take longer than three days, then there is what is called a “default proceed” in which the gun store owner can sell a weapon to an individual regardless of the incomplete background check. Background checks can take a long time to process due to incomplete state records with missing information.

In the final part of the workshop, the group viewed clips from the 2016 documentary Under the Gun, which was followed by a discussion. What the documentary highlighted, in particular, was how severely underfunded the ATF is, which results in a lack of resources, and cases going cold. On top of this, the ATF is prohibited from computerizing records; all serial numbers need to be found by sorting through dozens and dozens of boxes of paper files that have accumulated over the past several decades. You can just imagine how time consuming that is, which is why so many cases end up going unsolved.

The YWCA Berkeley/Oakland Week Without Violence focused on highlighting issues of violence, why they happen, and how they can be alleviated. There are many policies and regulations that facilitate violence, particularly gun violence, and individuals are not always aware of these. It is important to educate yourself on certain policies and issues, especially pertaining to gun violence, so you can make calls to your senator and/or vote to make a change and see a safer world.