The call for tougher gun control legislation dominated U.S. Rep. John Garamendi’s Town Hall meeting in Williams last Thursday night.
“I am a retired kindergarten and first grade teacher, and I have literally been praying every single day since Sandy Hook (2012) happened; every single day,” said Linda Masuhara, of Arbuckle. “I can’t imagine what the teachers went though when I read the details of that. I kept asking what would I have done? Would I have opened the door and sent (my students) out into the wilderness or would I shove them in a closet? What would I have done? That hits so close to home. What will it take for us to finally ban these military weapons? I don’t want teachers carrying guns. What will we do to protect our children?”
For Garamendi, the answer is sweeping changes to laws that would mirror those in California, which has banned the new purchase of certain military-style weapons, put restrictions on the purchase of ammunition, eliminated gun-show loopholes, and toughened background checks.
“The rest of the nation does not have laws like California,” Garamendi said.
Garamendi was a state senator when he introduced California’s first gun legislation banning assault weapons in the state, following the 1989 shooting on a Stockton schoolyard in which a gunman, whose troubling behavior and criminal history began around the age of 12, purchased an AK-47 and shot and killed five students and injured 30 other people, before pulling out a handgun and fatally shooting himself.
“It was a school where the first assault weapon massacre occurred,” Garamendi said. “I was there – not at the massacre, but the day after. I visited kids in the hospital whose bodies were torn apart by an AK-47. I visited homes, but there were no children there because their children died.”
That shooting also led to the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban, pushed by U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein, and signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush. That law expired in 2004.
“Between 1994 and 2004, when we had a national assault weapons ban, there were 12 massacres and 84 people killed. Between 2004 and 2014, the next 10-year period, there were 31 massacres and 303 people killed. That’s a 237 percent increase since the assault weapons ban expired. The fact of the matter is that a ban makes a big difference. It’s not to say it will be the last massacre, but the availability of assault weapons would significantly decrease. And I think that’s important.”
While people at the meeting were divided on whether mental illness or the psyche of certain individuals play any part in mass killings, most agreed that limited access to weapons would likely curtail such events.
“I served in Korea,” said Byron Denton, 89, of Orland. “I know what guns will do. I know some say (it’s about being) mentally disabled. I don’t care. I say if guns aren’t available, it doesn’t matter how crazy they are, they can’t get them.”
Although most at the Town Hall said they remain hopeful Democrats will someday be able to pass sweeping federal gun laws across the nation, Garamendi said he is concerned they will not.
Garamendi said that while the omnibus spending bill provided some funding for states, it did not require universal background checks. Democrats have also not been able to get legislation passed that prevents listed “no fly” individuals from purchasing a gun, and other smaller gun control measures, he said.
For now, Democrats said they would look to the younger generation to step up and help dictate future policy that may possibly dampen gun violence.
“The best chance we have are these kids marching in the streets,” Garamendi said.
Like Garamendi, Denton said generational change will prevail on the gun issue.
“I’m so proud of those kids,” Denton said. “They are taking names and kicking you know what. They are going to do it. They’re determined. They can’t buy them. Those politicians can’t buy them, and they’re going to vote (the NRA’s) friends out.”■