Warriors coach Steve Kerr headlines Bay Area town hall on gun violence

Warriors coach Steve Kerr addresses a town hall on gun violence. (AP)
Warriors coach Steve Kerr addresses a town hall on gun violence. (AP)

Steve Kerr and Matt Deitsch sat in the Newark (Calif.) Memorial High locker room, sharing stories of family members impacted by gun violence, as a gymnasium full of students awaited their speeches at a town hall outside San Jose, Calif. The Golden State Warriors coach’s father Malcolm was assassinated as president of American University in Beirut in 1984, and the Stoneman Douglas (Parkland, Fla.) High graduate’s younger brother and sister survived last month’s shooting that claimed 17 lives.

Then, the 52-year-old Kerr and 20-year-old Deitsch together urged the crowd of 500 to continue the momentum built by Douglas students toward restricting gun violence, calling it “your No. 1 issue.” Deitsch has been a leader in organizing the March for Our Lives that will take place on March 24 in Washington, D.C., and cities around the country. Kerr vowed to attend the march in San Francisco.

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“I have been truly inspired by what I’m seeing lately from the kids at Douglas High School,” Kerr said, via the Associated Press, the San Francisco Chronicle and The Athletic. “I’m inspired by what’s happening. It feels real. For the first time, I feel like something has happened. Until now, I haven’t felt that same momentum and passion. And so you guys have the responsibility to keep that going.”

Both Kerr and Deitsch urged the Newark students to vote their conscience in upcoming elections.

“There’s lots of stuff that deserves healthy debate, but kids getting murdered in high schools and people getting murdered by semi-automatic weapons, weapons that belong in the military, that’s not up for debate,” added Kerr, via NBC Sports Bay Area. “It should not be a partisan issue. So, you guys can not only vote, not only can you inspire others to vote, but you can go to the people who are running for various offices here and nationwide, Republicans and Democrats, and you can insist: This is your No. 1 issue.”

Monday’s event was organized by Rep. Ro Khanna (D-San Jose), who pegged Kerr after hearing him speak publicly about gun violence. This past October, Kerr called for tougher gun control in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, and he called it a public health issue” a month later after the Sutherland Springs shooting. This on the heels of plainly asking after the Orlando shooting, “How insane are we?

“I think his courage is not to be underestimated. It is so unusual to see someone of his stature take a stand on a political issue, and it speaks to how important this issue is to him, how personal it is to him, that he’s willing to do it,” Khanna told reporters, via The Athletic. “He’s canceled a Warriors practice, he’s coming out here to speak to young people, and I think he sees what so many of us see, that there’s a moment in this country that can make a difference and if he can lend his voice to that he wants to be part of it. I really admire him for it, and I hope more people like him will speak out.”

Students reportedly asked a wide variety of questions, and when the subject of expertise arose, both Kerr and Deitsch reminded everyone that their respective status as an NBA coach and 20-year-old activist makes them no less qualified to speak on the issue than government and NRA officials.

“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,” said Kerr. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to speak on something that’s very important to me.”

Added Deitsch: “I don’t represent Congress, I don’t represent one of the most stacked teams in NBA history, I represent the 17 people who lost their lives on Feb. 14. Seventeen people, who in their last effort of life made a conscious effort to save someone else. Every single one of them died a hero.”

In fact, few people have more experience with gun violence.

“I know how the Parkland families feel, or the Aurora families, or Sandy Hook,” said Kerr, who also vowed to engage more on the issue and to try to get his team involved. “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.”

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Ben Rohrbach is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rohrbach_ben@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!