Let's talk about guns and safety
Two years ago, I proposed that the Gilroy City Council approve an ordinance to help prevent gun-caused death and injury. The measure didn't violate the Second Amendment and banned not a single gun. It was defeated 5-2.
Last year I introduced a similar measure. Again, it was defeated 5-2. There was a difference this time, though: I was initially prevented from even describing the measure to my fellow council members. In a small victory, the city attorney ultimately said that taking a few minutes to outline my proposal was probably OK.
What was the idea that caused the divisiveness? It's an ordinance mandating that any firearm within the city limits be stored securely — i.e. in a gun safe, unloaded and separate from ammunition. The Santa Clara County Health Department recommended passing such ordinances in a report on gun violence last year. Several cities and school districts around the state and country have approved such proposals. Gov. Gavin Newsom even signed bill into law in 2022 requiring that information on safe storage be included in schools' annual notifications to parents and guardians.
A reasonable person might ask why secure storage would be unworthy of discussion in Gilroy. The city voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden — a vocal advocate of gun control — for president in 2020. It seems citizens would be open to an idea to make guns safer.
The rationale for firearm secure storage is compelling:
• Firearms became the leading cause of death among children in the U.S. in 2020.
• In California, nearly two thirds people who have guns and live with children don't store all firearms locked up and unloaded.
• Homes with guns are more likely to see family members murdered, according to the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. Specifically, for each 10% increase in home ownership of guns, the risk of someone in the household being killed increases by 13%.
• Access to a firearm triples the risk of suicide.
• The potential for violence can extend beyond the home: Some 75% of school shooters acquire their firearms from home or a close relative, according to the University of Michigan.
For me, the issue is personal. In addition to serving on the Gilroy City Council I also work as an Oakland firefighter/paramedic. In my 22 years in that profession, I have seen too many homes — including those with children — where firearms are unsecured. I've seen firsthand how firearms that aren't securely stored can cause injury and death.
Some argue that California's secure storage law obviates the need for cities like Gilroy to pass similar ordinances (an argument our mayor and others have made). But as civic leaders, it's critical for us to set an example. It's also important for Gilroy and other cities to define exactly how firearms should be securely stored and how we want secure storage laws to be implemented. We need to lead and not assume secure storage will happen on its own. Others argue that Gilroy would have to become a “police state” to enforce secure storage. This is false and divisive. As a firefighter/ paramedic, I see every day how a graduated approach to change is best — first educate, then encourage and, if those approaches don't work, enforce the law as a last resort. Again, common sense. What's important is to start the conversation about secure storage.
Discussing guns shouldn't be taboo. In Gilroy and across the country we're in dire need of respectful, common-sense, datadriven conversations about how to make guns safer. The voice of the majority needs to be heard — not just the small minority who use guns to divide our communities. There are proven, common sense steps to reduce gun violence and that don't violate constitutional rights. Actively encouraging firearm secure storage is a great place to start.
Zach Hilton is a member of the Gilroy City Council.