Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr, an outspoken gun control advocate, joined U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna for a town hall with high school students discussing gun violence Monday.
The town hall, dubbed a "conversation on gun violence," took place at Newark Memorial High School. It featured about 2,000 people from as many as seven Bay Area high schools.
Kerr began his part of the discussion by telling his very personal story of gun violence tragedy. He was 18 when his father, Malcolm Kerr, was killed in January 1984 by gunmen in Beirut, Lebanon.
“I’m not here because I’m the Warriors coach. Actually I am, because I wouldn’t have been invited. I’m here because I’m a citizen of this country and we’re a democracy and when people say stick to sports, stick to coaching, that means nothing,” Kerr said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak on something that’s very important to me.”
Kerr joined U.S. Rep. Ro Khanna, U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, chair of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and students from throughout the South Bay to discuss the issue. Also in attendance was Matt Deitsch, 20, whose younger brother and sister stayed locked in closets during last month’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“I think he sees what so many of us see: There’s a moment in this country that can make a difference,” Khanna said.
Deitsch identified himself as the oldest member of the “Never Again” movement. He and others in his group plan to march in Washington, D.C., on March 24.
“It will change things because the youth is mobilizing at a rate that scares the status quo,” said Deitsch, who noted: “This is affecting all communities. It can happen anywhere.”
Kerr believes young people will help create change. “All I’ve really done is expressed my outrage and my concern,” he said.
Kerr said he’d like to do more, perhaps getting “my team involved.”
“I have been truly inspired by what I’m seeing lately from the kids at Douglas High School,” Kerr said. “I’m inspired by what’s happening. It feels real. For the first time, it feels like something’s happening.”
Kerr’s father, Malcolm, president of the American University of Beirut, was murdered in Beirut when Kerr was 18 and a freshman at the University of Arizona.
“I know how the Parkland families feel, or the Aurora families, or Sandy Hook,” Kerr said. “I know what it feels like. I met family members from Las Vegas. I know what that feels like. It’s awful. It’s devastating. It’s horrible.”
"This should not be a partisan issue," Kerr said. "There's lots of stuff that deserves healthy debate. But kids getting murdered at a high school, people getting killed by semi-automatic weapons ... is not up for debate."
Kerr also implored the students in attendance to use Wednesday's national walkout as momentum for the upcoming national march against gun violence on March 24. He said he would be participating in the San Francisco event.
Before Monday's event, Kerr spoke to the critics of athletes and other celebrities speaking out on what are seen as political issues.
"People say, 'Stay in your lane' or whatever. What does that even mean?" Kerr said. "Like, unless you’re a politician you shouldn’t be concerned with your fellow citizen. No!
"Our government works for us. We the people," Kerr added. "We can be the agents of change, but it takes a generation of people who want that change.
Khanna represents California's 17th congressional district, which consists mostly of Silicon Valley cities and includes Newark. He believes people will listen to Kerr.
"I think he could touch people, not just in our district, but young people across the country," Khanna said. "I don’t think there’s a high school student out there who doesn’t know who Steve Kerr is!"
In the immediate wake of the deadly mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last month, Kerr publicly expressed his disdain for the National Rifle Association and the politicians who have fallen in step with it.
"It doesn't seem to matter to our government that children are being shot to death day after day at schools," Kerr said days after 17 people were killed at the Florida high school. "It doesn't matter that people are being shot at a concert, at a movie theater. It's not enough apparently to move our leadership, our government, the people who are running this country to actually do anything. That's demoralizing."