Toni Wellen was first compelled to fight against gun violence after she heard personal stories from people who had lost loved ones to gunfire. For the past two decades, “It’s sort of taken over my life,” Wellen said Sunday afternoon in the courtyard of the Santa Barbara Club surrounded by a number of dignitaries who attended the Coalition Against Gun Violence 20th anniversary fundraiser.

Wellen and Ilene Pritikin, who died at age 85 in 2009, co-founded the coalition after they protested nuclear weapons in the 1980s. “Gun violence isn’t like a heart attack or a stroke,” Wellen said. “It is violence.” The purpose of the organization is not to eliminate guns entirely, but to strengthen gun restriction policies, she said.

Toni Wellen, co-founder of the Coalition Against Gun Violence
Kelsey Brugger

Wellen acknowledged a host of past and present elected officials on Sunday. Given the distinction of “Honoree Trailblazers” were former supervisor Susan Rose and former Santa Barbara mayors Sheila Lodge and Marty Blum. Representative Lois Capps, who could not attend because she is recovering from knee surgery, was named “Honoree Change Agent.”

Capps provided a statement that was read aloud by Mayor Helene Schneider, who is seeking to replace Capps in Congress after she retires at the end of this term. Capps called for “common sense legislation.” Two weeks ago, she reintroduced a bill that addresses protections for victims of domestic violence. A number of gun control bills have stalled in Congress since advocates pushed for them following the Sandy Hook shooting.

On the other hand, gun control measures at the state level have seen success. Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblymember Das Williams — also deemed “Honoree Change Agents” — quickly coauthored a bill after the Isla Vista shooting that Governor Jerry Brown signed last year. It allows families or law enforcement agencies to file a court order to temporary separate a dangerous or distressed person from his or her firearm. Jackson’s bill that mandates law enforcement personnel check gun databases before performing welfare checks was also signed into law last year.

A number of other elected officials, including county school superintendent Bill Cirone, District Attorney Joyce Dudley, county supervisors Janet Wolf, Salud Carbajal, and Doreen Farr, and city councilmembers Cathy Murillo and Gregg Hart were also named honorees.

During the ceremony, a bell was rung for the six UCSB students — George Chen, David Wang, Veronika Weiss, Christopher Michaels-Martinez, Katie Cooper, and James Hong — who were murdered in Isla Vista nearly one year ago. Others filed to the bell to ring it for their own family members who had been killed by gun violence.

On June 13, the Coalition, in conjunction with the Santa Barbara Police Department, will host a gun buyback at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Last year, at the first event of its kind in the area, 239 firearms were exchanged for a total of $23,000 in Vons gift cards. Critics argue gun buybacks do not get guns away from criminals, but Wellen noted tragic accidents occur often in homes. Eight to nine children die every day from gunshots, she said. More gun-related deaths occur from suicides than homicides, Wellen added.

On Monday, Richard Martinez and Bob Weiss, whose kids were shot and killed last year in the Isla Vista rampage, will speak at 3 p.m. at the Isla Vista Theater at a talk called “Turning Tragedy into Activism: Why We Got Involved in the Gun Safety Movement.” On Thursday, Weiss will travel to the UC Regents meeting to deliver a petition that calls on the university system to divest from the gun manufacturing industry.


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