Last week, in an email to constituents, Half Moon Bay City Councilman Adam Eisen wrote:
Input is requested from you: For Pumpkin Festival, would you prefer to have officers armed with rifles? The benefits are: the guns look menacing, they shoot straighter and because of this are much more accurate, and would allow an officer to more easily and readily take a targeted shot in a crowded area. The downside is that it takes away from our small-town spirit. Let me know what you prefer and your thoughts. In the wake of Gilroy, we are looking for ways to make our festival safe and festive.
The paragraph is perhaps unprecedented in the annals of Half Moon Bay City Council communications. There is a lot to unpack.
First, Eisen is to be commended for inviting the discussion. He regularly sends out “council update” emails to those who want them. Very few local elected leaders make such an effort. And there is little more important in the wake of recent events than how to provide security to the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival going forward.
Secondly, some are not shocked by the idea of uniformed deputies, armed with long guns, prepared to “take a targeted shot in a crowded area.” Some will note that heavily armed soldiers roam tourist attractions across the world and that Eisen’s suggestion is merely prudent and a reflection of the age in which we live. What, they ask, would you have an armed police officer do when an active shooter is terrorizing a crowded public place?
Eisen and I traded voicemail as I attempted to get some clarification of his intentions with the email and his thoughts on security for the event. In a message, he said he had received “a billion responses” from his email. He says a third of them supported increased firepower at the October festival, a third were appalled by the prospect, and the other third thanked him for asking the question. He also said he wasn’t necessarily advocating for any approach.
Eisen’s communication comes amid discussions between city officials, festival promoters and the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office in the wake of the July 28 Gilroy shooting. The parallels between the Gilroy and Half Moon Bay festivals are obvious, and everyone involved is interested in reassuring the rest of us that we are safe on Main Street for what has always been a celebratory weekend on Main Street. Sheriff’s Capt. Saul Lopez, while not divulging too much, promises stepped up security measures for the 2019 festival.
That is only prudent and we’re thankful that public officials see the urgency of the matter at hand. Here is where we stand.
The answer to gun violence is not bigger guns. The specter of deputies training rifles at some suspect across a crowded festival is something out of a nightmare. The Pumpkin Festival is a gathering of families. It benefits Coastside nonprofits that provide life-affirming services. Heavily armed guards would be out of character with the event, they would scare away many attendees, and they themselves could be a threat to public safety.
To put it succinctly, no one wants to bring their children to a street fair that feels like an armed encampment.
The correct response goes far beyond what local officials can deliver. We need thoughtful gun laws that include meaningful, compulsory background checks prior to purchase of firearms. Family and friends should be able to “red flag” people who are on a downward spiral. While mental illness does not cause gun violence, we also need better mental health care in the country. And we need to tell ourselves the truth about guns and their place in the history of our nation.
We will never be completely safe at large public events like the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival. An arms race with deranged suicidal maniacs would only make things worse.