San Francisco takes small steps towards big idea of gun control
Mayor Edwin M Lee is a small grey man with a blinding smile when he uses it. Last Thursday Mr Lee did not choose to use it, as he was giving a press conference on reducing gun crime in San Francisco.
This came of course in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14th, in which 20 primary school children and seven adults died . The firearms were legally held – by the perpetrator’s mother.
By coincidence San Francisco’s latest gun amnesty had already been scheduled to start the following day, Saturday, December 15th. Run by charities and funded by a private donor, it offered $200 for every gun surrendered.
“Police officers checked that the guns were operative,” officer Michael Andraychak, a press spokesman for the police department, explained to The Irish Times. You could surrender and get paid for up to three guns. It was San Francisco’s most successful gun amnesty ever. “We hadn’t done one in about two years,” said Andraychak. “We got 163 handguns, 91 rifles and 36 shotguns. Yes, that is a lot of guns for a city that we reckon has a residential population of 700,000 to 800,000.”
The week before the Connecticut shootings I heard gunfire late one night in San Francisco, for the first time. It sounds higher and lighter than you would think.
On Thursday morning a collection of the surrendered guns lay on a table and we looked at them solemnly and touched them in a foolish way. Later Lee would be photographed with the guns. There were two or three TV crews present and we were all waiting for the speakers to start.
Lee was the smallest person in the line-up . Supervisor Malia Cohen, an African-American city councillor who has been working on this issue for a while because her constituents shoot and kill each other on a regular basis, she said, towered above Lee, in her boots and leggings. Dr Andre Campbell, a trauma surgeon at San Francisco General Hospital and also African-American, had worn his medical white coat to the press conference, and he was taller than Cohen.
Police chief Greg Suhr, who is Caucasian, has a shaved head and managed to be tall and wide at the same time. If this line-up looked like a snapshot of America then that was no accident – a lot of thought goes into these things, and the mayor’s office has a sophisticated communications team which is headed by an Irish woman, Christine Falvey.
The press conference was called in the police department’s special operations unit, an anonymous and slightly industrial building in the south of the city.