The forum was organized by Sally Lieber, the former Mountain View mayor and state Assemblywoman, to highlight how the public can enter the policy process and compel elected officials to listen to calls for more comprehensive gun regulations.
The event drew few, if any pro-gun supporters. One woman in the audience said she had brought a friend to the meeting whom she described as a "responsible gun owner." But apparently feeling little in common with the rest of those in attendance, the man left shortly after Lieber took to the stage. The woman warned against creating an "echo chamber" of like-minded opinions, and encouraged spreading the group's message of gun control through reasonable discussions with friends and neighbors.
An emphasis on action permeated the meeting as lawmakers across the country begin to review ways to reform the nation's gun laws in the wake of the mass shooting last month at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
"For many years we've tolerated an extreme level of gun violence and gun accidents in America, but what has changed for us is Newtown," Lieber said in her opening remarks. "There is something about the human spirit that is not willing to tolerate the death of 20 children ... If we don't act now, we're not fulfilling our responsibility as human beings."
Stanford Law School Professor John Donohue III, a criminal justice expert and economist, spoke at length about some of his empirical research which uses a nation's wealth as an indicator of its ability to contain and deter violence. According to Donohue, compared with other nations of comparable wealth, the U.S. is a stark outlier in gun homicides, overall homicide deaths, as well as the "ease, access, and lethality of the guns that are available."
"Other countries take that responsibility (of deterring violence) much more seriously as a public concern, and you don't have the power of the domestic gun industry that we have here constantly trying to push guns," Donohue said of his comparative study.
Donohue was also sharply critical of the National Rifle Association for "fear-mongering," and for releasing misleading statistics and skewed facts meant to intimidate people into buying weapons for personal protection, especially to deter against the threat of home invasion.
"The idea that the cost-benefit calculus could be in your favor to have assault weapons in your home is really crazy," he said, calling the NRA's home invasion scenario a "fantasy perpetrated by gun culture."
Sunday's forum also featured panel discussions that touched on the role that mental health services play in helping to prevent violence. Monique Kane, the executive director of the Mountain View-based Community Health Awareness Council, stressed the importance of reaching out more to young people, and encouraging them to seek help if they feel troubled.
"One of the things I hear over and over again from young people is that they don't have anyone to turn to in their community. Often they don't even know their neighbors. I think that the more they feel part of the community the less likely they'll be...looking for weapons," Kane said.
Other discussions centered on bringing about more awareness about violent crimes occurring each day across the country that draw far less attention than incidents like the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and often occur in the nation's poorest neighborhoods.
Following the forum Sunday, the audience was invited to a ceremonial tree-planting at the Mountain View Police and Fire Station on Villa Street to memorialize the victims of gun violence, and to symbolically pledge to rally against it.