In a "Freedom Forum" on gun safety at Salt Lake City's Main Library, family members and friends shared their pain at losing loved ones. Gun owners accused gun-control advocates of trying to take away their rights. And police patrolled the forum, "just to make sure passions don't get out of hand," said police chief Rick Dinse, who participated in the panel discussion.
They didn't. But by the comments from the audience, neither did the participants find common ground.
Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, who initiated the forum and owns a gun, advocated six ways to protect the community from gun violence: Require gun owners to lock and store their weapons; increase the penalty for minors who illegally possess weapons, as well as for their parents or guardians, from a misdemeanor to a felony; allow cities to enact stricter gun safety laws than the state allows; renew the just-expired federal assault weapons ban; require the government to better track gun violence statistics; and prohibit concealed guns in schools and churches.
Anderson said state and federal lawmakers should be lobbied to change the laws, which he said are tilted toward granting gun rights without holding gun owners responsible.
But gun advocates in the audience bristled.
"What gives the panel the right to take away my most effective weapon against hate crimes?" asked David Nelson, who described himself as a gay, disabled Democrat.
Another participant said the title of the forum was ironic. "They call it a freedom forum. The mayor and others here are trying to restrict our freedoms."
Dinse and other panelists disagreed. The chief said the state should have "reasonable" gun laws, including a gun ban in schools and churches and the assault weapons ban.
"We've never argued you don't have a right to own a gun," said panelist Marla Kennedy, with the Gun Violence Prevention Center. She advocated gun owners be required to secure their firearms, especially when children could gain access.
So did Melissa Owens, whose 12-year-old brother, Jake, was shot by his friend in South Jordan last year. The friend found the loaded gun in a neighbor's car. The neighbor wasn't charged because it is not a crime to keep a gun in a home or garage without a permit. "That gun could have been unloaded or put inside a safe," she said.
Bill Quick urged the 70 or so people in the audience to let such stories "touch a string in your heart." He shared his own story. He was in the Triad Center in 1999 when De-Kieu Duy, diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, allegedly entered the Triad Center and started shooting with a 9mm handgun she legally bought the previous day. Quick's friend, Anne Sleater, was shot and died.
While audience members suggested Sleater would be alive if she had had a gun to protect herself, Quick, a gun owner, disagreed. "It happened in 20 seconds. I appreciate you not saying that. You don't know."
Panel member Janalee Tobias, with Women Against Gun Control, said violence could be prevented if parents more closely supervised their children, taught them to "forgive and forget," eliminated pornography and if schools offered children gun safety classes.