Turning ‘hurt into change’: CA Attorney General Rob Bonta talks gun violence

Feb. 9, 2023, 10:38 p.m.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta spoke at Stanford Law School (SLS) on Thursday, discussing climate legislation, tackling gun violence and proposing pathways to public service.

Speaking to an audience of Stanford undergraduates, law students and community members, Bonta rebuked a piece of advice he was given early on in his career. “Pick one, two, maybe three signature areas and forget about the rest,” he said. “I’ve never taken that advice and I never will.”

The California Policy Forum, a project of the student-run California Policy Collective, organized the fireside conversation in partnership with the Stanford Chapter of the American Constitution Society (ACS), the Environmental Law Society (ELS), the Bill Lane Center, and Stanford in Government (SIG). 

Bonta told The Daily that students can make a change in California by getting involved locally, running for office at Stanford and voting in every election. “Stanford students have agency, power, potency and the ability to change our world,” he said.

“I am very much my parents’ son. My parents are both activists and social justice advocates,” said Bonta about his start in public service. Bonta began his career as a state representative before being appointed, and eventually elected, the 34th Attorney General of the State of California and is the first person of Filipino descent to hold that position.

Originally from Alameda County, tackling the Bay Area’s housing crisis is one of Bonta’s main priorities. Bonta said the “Not in my Backyard” mindset often applied to affordable housing is a “shared problem” that he has helped remedy through efforts to expedite litigation surrounding housing.

Many students, including Shae Dolan ’26 came to hear the Attorney General’s thoughts on environmental justice issues. “I’m really excited to see what the Attorney General has to say about holding pollutants accountable,” Dolan said.

The misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), a statewide policy of environmental protection, was a main talking point of the conversation. “Sometimes people sue because they don’t want a certain project, not because they care about environmental issues… The foundation [of CEQA] is our desire to protect our natural resources, our environment,” Bonta said.

Bonta discussed increasing gun violence, an issue he says is a top concern for Californians following the recent mass shootings in the state. “We must turn that hurt into change,” Bonta said.

Earlier this month, Bonta, along with Governor Gavin Newsom and state Senator Anthony Portantino, introduced Senate Bill 2, a proposed piece of legislation to strengthen gun control in California.

Alvin Hong Lee ’25, one of the founders of the California Policy Collective, told The Daily that he helped organize the event to “inspire more students on campus to not only go into service in California, but to build a more vibrant community at Stanford that engages with state and local government.”

Lee said he believes that the Stanford community has a tendency to disengage from California government affairs. He labeled this “unfortunate,” due to the amount of research and resources that the University could offer to public institutions. 

The California Policy Forum chose Bonta to speak at Stanford due to his current work in tackling what the organization views as the most pressing issues in the Golden State. “He’s really a trailblazer for his work, and so we thought it’d be perfect for him to come in and talk about issues like housing, criminal justice, and gun violence,” Lee said.

Along with policy issues, Bonta discussed the desire for him to build a relationship with the people he serves. “I work with communities. I try to never be in the office, I try to be with the people,” Bonta said.

This article has been updated to correct an inaccurate quote. The Daily regrets this error.

Mark Allen Cu ’26 is the Staff Development & Data Director for The Daily. He is currently studying Education and Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. Contact him at mallencu ‘at’ stanford.edu

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