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Dennis Martinez leads the swap of guns for skateboards

The re-hab Training Center gets shotguns, .22s, .38s, .45s, and the occasional AR

Hall of Fame skateboarder, Dennis Martinez, embracing a vehicle he once feared.
Hall of Fame skateboarder, Dennis Martinez, embracing a vehicle he once feared.

A farewell to arms

It is my guess that none of the 298 guns — shotguns, .22s, .38s, .45s, and the occasional AR — turned in to the Vista Sheriff’s Department at their “Guns For Gift Cards” event on July 11th of this year were used to shoot clay pigeons. If they were, why would their owners trade them in for items worth a fraction of their value? But my guess will remain just that: as with most police-sponsored gun buy-backs, the Vista sheriffs on hand this day ask no questions about any gun’s history. According to Lieutenant Aldo Hernandez of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, “Our goal in doing gun buy backs is to make guns easy to dispose of.” With that in mind, each gun’s backstory will be destroyed along with the weapon itself — no matter how suspicious it may appear. But one woman, who requested anonymity, was forthright about her reason for dropping off the handgun in her possession. “Last year, my 23-year-old son was murdered by someone carrying a gun. That’s why I brought his gun here today. A lot of people are being held hostage in their neighborhoods by kids with guns.”

It’s 10 am sharp when the first buy-back customer of the day rolls her car up on the steaming asphalt to a still-empty card table guarded by a lone officer. The driver is a woman who appears to be of middle age: well dressed, well-spoken, and perhaps of the soccer mom variety. It’s easier to imagine her picking up her kids from practice than spraying the ‘hood in a drive-by. So why does she look nervous? Because of me. “This is supposed to be anonymous,” she snaps after noticing the camera slung around my neck. Once I assure her that I do not intend to photograph her, her car or her license plate, she chills a bit. She then pops the trunk to reveal 25 firearms, mostly shotguns, all in prime condition, piled up like firewood for a Girl Scout Jamboree. True to their word, the officers take the guns without asking any questions other than whether she prefers gift cards or skateboards.

I, on the other hand, am tempted to ask all sorts of questions. What are you doing with so many rifles? Doesn’t 25 rifles seem like overkill for home protection? Are you now, or have you ever been, an Armageddon conspiracy theorist? Are you now, or have you ever been, the leader of an anarchist cult? I mean, if these weapons were used by the aforementioned Girl Scouts looking for a Markswoman badge, why destroy the evidence? Nobody would willingly throw away thousands of dollars unless... The nosy journalist within is eventually subdued by the presence of silent armed law enforcement and my return to better judgment. The driver and I exchange polite smiles as she chooses a combination of gift cards valued at up to $200 per weapon, and skateboards, valued at up to $250 each. With a fistful of redeemable plastic in her purse and a clutch of harmless (unless you count the occasional self-inflicted road rash or broken bone) skateboards in her trunk, she drives away, scot-free.

The scene of the crime that never happened. These rifles were traded for gift cards or skateboards.

The skateboards being traded out today are distributed through Training Center, a rehab facility founded by pro skateboarder Dennis Martinez. He’s been involved with the work of trading boards for guns for about a decade, and says that “we have people from age 18 who turn in their guns for reasons of their own, to those as old as 80, who want to get rid of their guns so nobody breaks in, steals them, and uses them for an armed robbery or a homicide. The reasons vary, but we don’t ask what a gun was used for, no matter what.” Training Center operates a non-profit 501 C3, and the boards have been donated by the following companies: Carver, Loaded, Gravity, Quest, Kebbek, Z Flex, H-Street, Flying Aces, and Badlands. They are every bit as handsomely crafted as the items for which they are being exchanged.

Champion of the Board

Centered in Spring Valley, Training Center is a faith-based residential drug and alcohol treatment program geared toward men who are coming out of prison and suffering from substance abuse issues. Training Center’s daily and weekly workshops offer relapse prevention, employment readiness and training, life development, life skills, anger management, medication management, marriage and family therapy, and support for family and community reentry. What makes it unique are the people running the place — especially Martinez, the 61-year-old the unlikely overseer in chief of the place.

Martinez, whose wild life should have eliminated him from the face of the earth decades ago, somehow looks at least a decade younger than his age. Also astounding is that he was able to launch a rehabilitation facility in 2005. Consider his resume:

1977: World Champion Skateboarding Champion

1976-1982: Pro Skateboarder

1982-1996: Homeless methamphetamine addict

1996-2005: Volunteer at youth crisis hotline. Co-founder of Rescue Records.

Today, Martinez continues to produce his Flying Aces Skateboards and, as he says, “At 61 years old, I am still a pro skateboarder.” It probably helps that he has been completely clean and sober since 1996, and that he is among the most determined people you’re ever likely to meet. He traveled from crime to faith, and become extremely trustworthy in the process. Against all odds and with no formal education, he founded and co-ran a 25-room live-in rehab. From there, he traveled the world to spread his message of sobriety. A documentary, D.O.P.E. (Death Or Prison Eventually) was made about his life and the lives of his peers, skateboarding legends Jay Adams, Bruce Logan, and Christian Hosoi. Training Center thrived until 2019 when it became another Covid victim and was eventually shut down. Never one to quit, Dennis pivoted and opened a similar, smaller facility nearby.

He learned about both skateboards and guns in his youth, on the streets of San Diego. Skateboarding was his first love, and endless practice led him to become one of the world’s top pro riders in the late ‘70s to mid-’80s. His career culminated with his victory at the 1977 World Skateboarding Championships (and, more recently, a well-deserved spot in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame). “By the age of 16,” he recalls, “I was making a grip of money. It was the first time I was able to pay cash for a new car and rent my own apartment.” Guns entered his orbit after he discovered his then drug of choice, methamphetamine, which he snorted, smoked, and eventually mainlined for 14 years. Part of what makes Dennis good at his job is that he understands the motivation of those he’s trying to help. He understands bad intentions, and what might make someone want to pull the trigger, and also being under the influence. “I would be high on meth when fools would come up to me to push my buttons, not knowing that I packed a gun all the time — a snub nose .38, a nine millimeter, or a .22. When I drove around in my VW Van, I carried a loaded semi-automatic Beretta Shotgun.”

Most of Martinez’s life had been spent in pursuit of some sort of ecstatic rush. But his years spent as a self-confessed “adrenaline junkie” gave way to years of being just a regular junkie, injecting speed so often that he no longer has a vein anywhere in his body capable of being pierced by a syringe. Over his the course of his addiction, he sought to replace the thrill (and cash) he once received from skateboarding by mainlining (and selling) meth. “By my early twenties, I was already spun out on dope, snorting coke and smoking meth. Then, when I wasn’t getting high enough, my neighbor turned me on to the needle, even though I had a fear of needles going back to my childhood. Still, when he described to me the type of high it was, I had to try it. And I can tell you this, from the first time he drew the needle back and I saw the blood and he injected it into me, I was hooked.”

Once Dennis crossed over to the dark side, he began taking risks that led to more than the scraped knees or bone fractures of skateboarding. He started flirting with death itself. According to Martinez, “Every time you do meth, you taste death, and if that doesn’t kill you, dealing it just might. I would be holding thousands of dollars in a money belt for a drug dealer, along with a snub nose .38. I didn’t even make a good drug dealer, though, because whatever drugs I got, I would do up. It got so crazy that sometimes we would play Russian roulette. You know, you have one bullet and six chambers, so… you do the math. I was out doing a drug deal when a kid I knew ended up spinning the chamber, pointing the gun at himself, pulling the trigger twice, and shooting himself. I heard that after he did it, he stood up and took a few steps forward before he died. He was 19 years old when it took his life. Man, people just don’t know what drugs do.”

Street cleaning

What Martinez, whose work sometimes brings him into contact with unsavory characters, is not is an anti-gun activist. He is a Second Amendment advocate who has carefully considered his and his family’s need for home protection. The buy backs are part of his six-month rehab program, which is “geared toward making men who had been incarcerated for long periods into productive members of society. We work on getting them oriented back into society,” in part “through their contact with law enforcement. Through the buy-backs, they get a different view of the police than most of them have ever had. They help assemble the skateboards we give out, and sometimes accompany us” to the events.

Among those accompanying Martinez today are his wife, Priss; his brother Johnny Ray; Training Center graduate, former prisoner, and former gang member Jon Lowry; and Martinez’s partner in anti-crime, Harv Hawks. Hawks is Martinez’s longtime friend and one-time rival pro skateboarder. He is also a convicted felon, and is as passionate about getting guns off the street as he once was about skateboarding. “I was a pro skateboarder who used to battle it out with Dennis Martinez in pools and skate parks back in the day,” he says. Like Martinez, Hawks’ career faded in direct correlation with his years of addiction. But while Martinez slid into obscurity over the course of several months, Hawks’ career ended in a split second. “I was driving drunk when I fell into a rage and fired a ‘warning shot’ into a van. That single shot, while not intended to injure anyone, hit two people and killed one of them.” For his crime, Hawks served over a quarter-century in various California State Prisons. It’s a safe bet that few people are more qualified to barter skateboards for firearms than Dennis Martinez and Harvey Hawks.

According to Chaplain Johnson, “One gun off the streets; one life saved.”

They shall beat their swords into plowshares.

-Isaiah 2:4

While some of the guns featured in today’s buy back possess an innocent history, others have, doubtless, been used for nefarious purposes. United African American Ministerial Action Council member Chaplain Gerald Johnson knows all about it. According to Chaplain Johnson, “One gun off the streets; one life saved. When I grew up in Harlem, we played a lot of basketball tournaments on the streets. I remember hearing gunfire once and, boom, a gentleman fell right in front of me after he was shot in the head. A few weeks ago, I did a funeral for a young man who was 20 years old when he died from violent gunfire. We [African Americans] experience many different types of things. Still, black-on-black crime far outweighs what’s happening in law enforcement. We have to be vigilant as fathers and grandfathers. We’ve got to be parents and raise our children in the home. We’ve got to give our children what it takes to earn respect.”

Reverend Dr. Gerald Brown worked through the council to start San Diego’s gun buy-back programs in response to two young high school students being gunned down. According to Reverend Brown, “This has been a great experience over the years, and while it’s difficult to quantify the decrease in gun violence since we began our gun buy back program, during our first years, there was a definite decrease in gun violence. We have taken everything from Uzis to AK 47s off the street. It was going really well, but after a few years, fewer people were trading in their guns. Then, when Dennis Martinez from Training Center brought in skateboards, it re-awakened the call.”

Control issues

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear arms.” Standing in the crossfire of the national gun debated is risky, but here goes: roughly 20,000 Americans were killed by gunfire in 2020. The proponents of increased gun control point to this number when arguing for stricter background checks and the outlawing of some guns (mostly the AR variety.) Their arguments gain attention each time a gunman empties a clip into a crowd. When confronting the Amendment, anti-gun proponents often claim that gun ownership was intended mainly for militias, and that gun restrictions have always existed in the United States. More recently, some have claimed that the Second Amendment itself was racially motivated, a tool to keep slaves in check. Their opponents counter that the Second Amendment protects individual rights, and argue that gun ownership deters crime rather than increasing it. And although many people on both sides of the debate favor some sort of increased regulation on guns, the issue continues to polarize the country.

Guns are such a hot topic that most people I questioned requested that their names be withheld from this article. One Leucadia woman noted with disgust that there are more guns in the U.S. than there are residents. Representing the extreme opposite opinion was an Oceanside man, proudly flying a bedsheet-sized American flag from the tailgate of his F-150. According to him, “Guns are meant to protect citizens against a tyrannical government. The first thing the Nazis did when they came to power was to confiscate guns. Nobody’s taking my guns from me without a fight.” But both sides might do well to hear what I was recently told by a warden at Calipatria’s level-four State Prison, which houses numerous inmates convicted of first-degree murder. “About 85 percent of violent crimes committed by those we incarcerate were done while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” And national statistics indicate that half of all gun deaths in our nation involve the use of alcohol or some other controlled substance. The gun question becomes still more nuanced and complicated when you consider that, of the 20,000 killed by guns last year, around 60 percent were suicides. And while tragic, those 20,000 deaths are dwarfed by the 90,000 drug O.D.s and the 100,000 alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. last year.

For his part, Martinez observes that “violent crime and drug use go hand in hand. In fact, most of the homicides committed would have been avoided if drugs or alcohol weren’t present. At Training Center, we spend much of our time helping get people clean and sober. This will inevitably decrease gun violence. Our goal with the gun buy backs, however, is to ensure these guns aren’t used for second or third crimes. Many of the guns we receive are legal, but some are not and have the serial numbers filed off of them. Others are what we call ‘80 percenters,’ where part of the gun is homemade.”

Harv Hawks backs up Martinez with his personal testimony. “I was drunk and pissed off when I fired a warning shot into the side of a van. That shot ended up injuring one person and taking another’s life. I was rightly convicted of second-degree murder and spent 26 years, four months, one week, and six days in California State Prisons. I never saw my victim, but I soon discovered that she was an off-duty police officer and a beloved mother of three. Once I went to prison, it was like her spirit grabbed me by the ear and pulled me in the right direction. I have to live with what I did for the rest of my life. Now I feel a duty to live the right way.”

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Hall of Fame skateboarder, Dennis Martinez, embracing a vehicle he once feared.
Hall of Fame skateboarder, Dennis Martinez, embracing a vehicle he once feared.

A farewell to arms

It is my guess that none of the 298 guns — shotguns, .22s, .38s, .45s, and the occasional AR — turned in to the Vista Sheriff’s Department at their “Guns For Gift Cards” event on July 11th of this year were used to shoot clay pigeons. If they were, why would their owners trade them in for items worth a fraction of their value? But my guess will remain just that: as with most police-sponsored gun buy-backs, the Vista sheriffs on hand this day ask no questions about any gun’s history. According to Lieutenant Aldo Hernandez of the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, “Our goal in doing gun buy backs is to make guns easy to dispose of.” With that in mind, each gun’s backstory will be destroyed along with the weapon itself — no matter how suspicious it may appear. But one woman, who requested anonymity, was forthright about her reason for dropping off the handgun in her possession. “Last year, my 23-year-old son was murdered by someone carrying a gun. That’s why I brought his gun here today. A lot of people are being held hostage in their neighborhoods by kids with guns.”

It’s 10 am sharp when the first buy-back customer of the day rolls her car up on the steaming asphalt to a still-empty card table guarded by a lone officer. The driver is a woman who appears to be of middle age: well dressed, well-spoken, and perhaps of the soccer mom variety. It’s easier to imagine her picking up her kids from practice than spraying the ‘hood in a drive-by. So why does she look nervous? Because of me. “This is supposed to be anonymous,” she snaps after noticing the camera slung around my neck. Once I assure her that I do not intend to photograph her, her car or her license plate, she chills a bit. She then pops the trunk to reveal 25 firearms, mostly shotguns, all in prime condition, piled up like firewood for a Girl Scout Jamboree. True to their word, the officers take the guns without asking any questions other than whether she prefers gift cards or skateboards.

I, on the other hand, am tempted to ask all sorts of questions. What are you doing with so many rifles? Doesn’t 25 rifles seem like overkill for home protection? Are you now, or have you ever been, an Armageddon conspiracy theorist? Are you now, or have you ever been, the leader of an anarchist cult? I mean, if these weapons were used by the aforementioned Girl Scouts looking for a Markswoman badge, why destroy the evidence? Nobody would willingly throw away thousands of dollars unless... The nosy journalist within is eventually subdued by the presence of silent armed law enforcement and my return to better judgment. The driver and I exchange polite smiles as she chooses a combination of gift cards valued at up to $200 per weapon, and skateboards, valued at up to $250 each. With a fistful of redeemable plastic in her purse and a clutch of harmless (unless you count the occasional self-inflicted road rash or broken bone) skateboards in her trunk, she drives away, scot-free.

The scene of the crime that never happened. These rifles were traded for gift cards or skateboards.

The skateboards being traded out today are distributed through Training Center, a rehab facility founded by pro skateboarder Dennis Martinez. He’s been involved with the work of trading boards for guns for about a decade, and says that “we have people from age 18 who turn in their guns for reasons of their own, to those as old as 80, who want to get rid of their guns so nobody breaks in, steals them, and uses them for an armed robbery or a homicide. The reasons vary, but we don’t ask what a gun was used for, no matter what.” Training Center operates a non-profit 501 C3, and the boards have been donated by the following companies: Carver, Loaded, Gravity, Quest, Kebbek, Z Flex, H-Street, Flying Aces, and Badlands. They are every bit as handsomely crafted as the items for which they are being exchanged.

Champion of the Board

Centered in Spring Valley, Training Center is a faith-based residential drug and alcohol treatment program geared toward men who are coming out of prison and suffering from substance abuse issues. Training Center’s daily and weekly workshops offer relapse prevention, employment readiness and training, life development, life skills, anger management, medication management, marriage and family therapy, and support for family and community reentry. What makes it unique are the people running the place — especially Martinez, the 61-year-old the unlikely overseer in chief of the place.

Martinez, whose wild life should have eliminated him from the face of the earth decades ago, somehow looks at least a decade younger than his age. Also astounding is that he was able to launch a rehabilitation facility in 2005. Consider his resume:

1977: World Champion Skateboarding Champion

1976-1982: Pro Skateboarder

1982-1996: Homeless methamphetamine addict

1996-2005: Volunteer at youth crisis hotline. Co-founder of Rescue Records.

Today, Martinez continues to produce his Flying Aces Skateboards and, as he says, “At 61 years old, I am still a pro skateboarder.” It probably helps that he has been completely clean and sober since 1996, and that he is among the most determined people you’re ever likely to meet. He traveled from crime to faith, and become extremely trustworthy in the process. Against all odds and with no formal education, he founded and co-ran a 25-room live-in rehab. From there, he traveled the world to spread his message of sobriety. A documentary, D.O.P.E. (Death Or Prison Eventually) was made about his life and the lives of his peers, skateboarding legends Jay Adams, Bruce Logan, and Christian Hosoi. Training Center thrived until 2019 when it became another Covid victim and was eventually shut down. Never one to quit, Dennis pivoted and opened a similar, smaller facility nearby.

He learned about both skateboards and guns in his youth, on the streets of San Diego. Skateboarding was his first love, and endless practice led him to become one of the world’s top pro riders in the late ‘70s to mid-’80s. His career culminated with his victory at the 1977 World Skateboarding Championships (and, more recently, a well-deserved spot in the Skateboarding Hall of Fame). “By the age of 16,” he recalls, “I was making a grip of money. It was the first time I was able to pay cash for a new car and rent my own apartment.” Guns entered his orbit after he discovered his then drug of choice, methamphetamine, which he snorted, smoked, and eventually mainlined for 14 years. Part of what makes Dennis good at his job is that he understands the motivation of those he’s trying to help. He understands bad intentions, and what might make someone want to pull the trigger, and also being under the influence. “I would be high on meth when fools would come up to me to push my buttons, not knowing that I packed a gun all the time — a snub nose .38, a nine millimeter, or a .22. When I drove around in my VW Van, I carried a loaded semi-automatic Beretta Shotgun.”

Most of Martinez’s life had been spent in pursuit of some sort of ecstatic rush. But his years spent as a self-confessed “adrenaline junkie” gave way to years of being just a regular junkie, injecting speed so often that he no longer has a vein anywhere in his body capable of being pierced by a syringe. Over his the course of his addiction, he sought to replace the thrill (and cash) he once received from skateboarding by mainlining (and selling) meth. “By my early twenties, I was already spun out on dope, snorting coke and smoking meth. Then, when I wasn’t getting high enough, my neighbor turned me on to the needle, even though I had a fear of needles going back to my childhood. Still, when he described to me the type of high it was, I had to try it. And I can tell you this, from the first time he drew the needle back and I saw the blood and he injected it into me, I was hooked.”

Once Dennis crossed over to the dark side, he began taking risks that led to more than the scraped knees or bone fractures of skateboarding. He started flirting with death itself. According to Martinez, “Every time you do meth, you taste death, and if that doesn’t kill you, dealing it just might. I would be holding thousands of dollars in a money belt for a drug dealer, along with a snub nose .38. I didn’t even make a good drug dealer, though, because whatever drugs I got, I would do up. It got so crazy that sometimes we would play Russian roulette. You know, you have one bullet and six chambers, so… you do the math. I was out doing a drug deal when a kid I knew ended up spinning the chamber, pointing the gun at himself, pulling the trigger twice, and shooting himself. I heard that after he did it, he stood up and took a few steps forward before he died. He was 19 years old when it took his life. Man, people just don’t know what drugs do.”

Street cleaning

What Martinez, whose work sometimes brings him into contact with unsavory characters, is not is an anti-gun activist. He is a Second Amendment advocate who has carefully considered his and his family’s need for home protection. The buy backs are part of his six-month rehab program, which is “geared toward making men who had been incarcerated for long periods into productive members of society. We work on getting them oriented back into society,” in part “through their contact with law enforcement. Through the buy-backs, they get a different view of the police than most of them have ever had. They help assemble the skateboards we give out, and sometimes accompany us” to the events.

Among those accompanying Martinez today are his wife, Priss; his brother Johnny Ray; Training Center graduate, former prisoner, and former gang member Jon Lowry; and Martinez’s partner in anti-crime, Harv Hawks. Hawks is Martinez’s longtime friend and one-time rival pro skateboarder. He is also a convicted felon, and is as passionate about getting guns off the street as he once was about skateboarding. “I was a pro skateboarder who used to battle it out with Dennis Martinez in pools and skate parks back in the day,” he says. Like Martinez, Hawks’ career faded in direct correlation with his years of addiction. But while Martinez slid into obscurity over the course of several months, Hawks’ career ended in a split second. “I was driving drunk when I fell into a rage and fired a ‘warning shot’ into a van. That single shot, while not intended to injure anyone, hit two people and killed one of them.” For his crime, Hawks served over a quarter-century in various California State Prisons. It’s a safe bet that few people are more qualified to barter skateboards for firearms than Dennis Martinez and Harvey Hawks.

According to Chaplain Johnson, “One gun off the streets; one life saved.”

They shall beat their swords into plowshares.

-Isaiah 2:4

While some of the guns featured in today’s buy back possess an innocent history, others have, doubtless, been used for nefarious purposes. United African American Ministerial Action Council member Chaplain Gerald Johnson knows all about it. According to Chaplain Johnson, “One gun off the streets; one life saved. When I grew up in Harlem, we played a lot of basketball tournaments on the streets. I remember hearing gunfire once and, boom, a gentleman fell right in front of me after he was shot in the head. A few weeks ago, I did a funeral for a young man who was 20 years old when he died from violent gunfire. We [African Americans] experience many different types of things. Still, black-on-black crime far outweighs what’s happening in law enforcement. We have to be vigilant as fathers and grandfathers. We’ve got to be parents and raise our children in the home. We’ve got to give our children what it takes to earn respect.”

Reverend Dr. Gerald Brown worked through the council to start San Diego’s gun buy-back programs in response to two young high school students being gunned down. According to Reverend Brown, “This has been a great experience over the years, and while it’s difficult to quantify the decrease in gun violence since we began our gun buy back program, during our first years, there was a definite decrease in gun violence. We have taken everything from Uzis to AK 47s off the street. It was going really well, but after a few years, fewer people were trading in their guns. Then, when Dennis Martinez from Training Center brought in skateboards, it re-awakened the call.”

Control issues

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: “A well-regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free State, the right of the people to bear arms.” Standing in the crossfire of the national gun debated is risky, but here goes: roughly 20,000 Americans were killed by gunfire in 2020. The proponents of increased gun control point to this number when arguing for stricter background checks and the outlawing of some guns (mostly the AR variety.) Their arguments gain attention each time a gunman empties a clip into a crowd. When confronting the Amendment, anti-gun proponents often claim that gun ownership was intended mainly for militias, and that gun restrictions have always existed in the United States. More recently, some have claimed that the Second Amendment itself was racially motivated, a tool to keep slaves in check. Their opponents counter that the Second Amendment protects individual rights, and argue that gun ownership deters crime rather than increasing it. And although many people on both sides of the debate favor some sort of increased regulation on guns, the issue continues to polarize the country.

Guns are such a hot topic that most people I questioned requested that their names be withheld from this article. One Leucadia woman noted with disgust that there are more guns in the U.S. than there are residents. Representing the extreme opposite opinion was an Oceanside man, proudly flying a bedsheet-sized American flag from the tailgate of his F-150. According to him, “Guns are meant to protect citizens against a tyrannical government. The first thing the Nazis did when they came to power was to confiscate guns. Nobody’s taking my guns from me without a fight.” But both sides might do well to hear what I was recently told by a warden at Calipatria’s level-four State Prison, which houses numerous inmates convicted of first-degree murder. “About 85 percent of violent crimes committed by those we incarcerate were done while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” And national statistics indicate that half of all gun deaths in our nation involve the use of alcohol or some other controlled substance. The gun question becomes still more nuanced and complicated when you consider that, of the 20,000 killed by guns last year, around 60 percent were suicides. And while tragic, those 20,000 deaths are dwarfed by the 90,000 drug O.D.s and the 100,000 alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. last year.

For his part, Martinez observes that “violent crime and drug use go hand in hand. In fact, most of the homicides committed would have been avoided if drugs or alcohol weren’t present. At Training Center, we spend much of our time helping get people clean and sober. This will inevitably decrease gun violence. Our goal with the gun buy backs, however, is to ensure these guns aren’t used for second or third crimes. Many of the guns we receive are legal, but some are not and have the serial numbers filed off of them. Others are what we call ‘80 percenters,’ where part of the gun is homemade.”

Harv Hawks backs up Martinez with his personal testimony. “I was drunk and pissed off when I fired a warning shot into the side of a van. That shot ended up injuring one person and taking another’s life. I was rightly convicted of second-degree murder and spent 26 years, four months, one week, and six days in California State Prisons. I never saw my victim, but I soon discovered that she was an off-duty police officer and a beloved mother of three. Once I went to prison, it was like her spirit grabbed me by the ear and pulled me in the right direction. I have to live with what I did for the rest of my life. Now I feel a duty to live the right way.”

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1

I'll trade two to ten skateboards, depending on what you have.

The problem is people, not the tools. Teach your children well.

Sept. 17, 2021

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