State Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge, and advocates for gun control spoke on the existing gun laws in California and addressed current gun violence issues during an open event at Pomona College Sunday, co-hosted by the local League of Women Voters-Mount Baldy chapter and the Pomona College Politics Department.
Along with Portantino, the panel included Ruth Kennedy-Mountjoy, the legislative lead for the San Fernando group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Loren Lieb the founding member and co-president of the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; and Stephen Lindley, the program manager in Los Angeles for the Brady Campaign to prevent Gun Violence.
Amanda Hollis-Brusky, co-chair of social policy of the League of Women Voters and associate professor of politics at Pomona College, served as the official host.
“We want the audience to know the perspectives of our state senators and activists and share their ideas and thoughts on gun legislation and gun violence with them,” Hollis-Brusky said at the start of the event, adding that she wanted the event to be a conversation versus a lecture.
The discussion addressed past improvements, current in-development legislation and potential improvements for future.
Lindley said that California’s stringent process for obtaining a gun distinguishes the state in this area.
“California has a very comprehensive background check system with little-to-no loopholes,” Lindley said. “And starting July we are going to start having background checks on ammunition purchases.”
Lindley added that virtually any gun exchange in California requires a background, lasting up to 10 days, even if it is from parent to child.
In addition, California is the only place in the world that has a system that can identify somebody who has illegally purchased a firearm and makes that information available for local law enforcement agencies.
State Department of Justice agents then go out and collect those illegally purchased firearms.
Portantino discussed new state gun legislation and the difference it will make for California.
“This legislation is also known as common sense legislation because you shouldn’t have assault rifles and you shouldn’t just be able to walk in a store and buy a gun without a background check,” Portantino said.
Mass school shootings, such as those at Stoneman Douglas, Santa Fe, Sandy Hook, and Columbine were all done by people under 21 with long guns, Portantino said. In the past, under California law, you had to be 21 to purchase most guns but 18 to purchase a long gun. The age limit changed to 21 for all gun purchases after former Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill in 2018.
“Now many people ask themselves ‘Why?’ What is the purpose or need for a universal age limit in California? Well, I will say it again. The mass shootings at Stoneman Douglas, Santa Fe High School, Sandy Hook and Columbine along with many others. They were all perpetuated by teenagers with long guns. I don’t want to see another name on that list,” Portantino said.
Although there have been many improvements in regards to gun legislation and gun violence in California, the panelists all concurred that there still needs more to be done.
Kennedy-Mountjoy said that the funding for gun legislation is limited in California and needs to be upgraded.
“Our intervention and prevention programs work very well in reducing city gun violence. But as of now, we only fund them at 23 cents per capita, which is very low compared to other states like New York, who funds at $1 per capita,” Kennedy-Mountjoy said.
Kennedy-Mountjoy said she will be advocating to increase the funds for these programs by $30 million per year at Sacramento next week.
“In addition to the funding there are several bills in Sacramento right now that can close the gaps we find in other pieces of legislation which can also serve as improvements to the Red Flag law,” Kennedy-Mountjoy said.
A public health and medical expert involvement was also tied to gun legislation during the event and addressed by the panelists, especially Lieb who has used her epidemiologist background to analyze the health issue in gun violence.
“The physical and emotional trauma caused by gun violence ripples through a community and is absolutely a public health issue,” Lieb said.
The key of public health is preventing illnesses or injuries, not reacting to them after they have occurred, Lieb said. The concept of public health is founded in the principles of social justice and everyone deserves to have a life free from injury or illness.
“It is totally appropriate for a physician to talk to a parent about whether they have guns in the household near a child or if there is an older person, with perhaps an illness, and recommends to remove the guns from the household,” Lieb said. “Since a physician is your one on one contact for your health questions, they should definitely be involved.”
Lieb compared a public health approach to gun legislation to auto safety. There have been tremendous strides in car safety and the number of people who have been killed in car accidents have decreased dramatically in the U.S. over the past several decades, Lieb said.
This decrease is due to the research that has gone into car safety and the comprehensive approach to figuring out which drivers are the most dangerous and when would we need to remove people’s licenses.
“The Center for Diseases Control addresses issues such as the flu epidemic but does not address the public health issue of gun violence because there have been restrictions on firearms research and legislation since the 1990s,” Lieb said.
In addition to the lack of medical research, a lack of oversight is also another factor that can be drastically improved, Lieb said.
“There is always oversight on nitty gritty things for children, such as the choking hazard of drawstrings on a sweatshirt, but not enough oversight on firearms,” Lieb said. “The leading cause of deaths for black children are guns and the second leading cause of death for all children are guns.”
Portaniuno agreed with Lieb on both of these issues and said this imposes a barrier on the future of gun legislation.
“Every day 96 people die from gun violence and of those 96, 59 die of suicide from gun violence,” Portantino said. “We are prohibiting valuable data from offering help to these people and it is not right. And to make it worse, the federal government is not allowed to research this issue.”
Much of the dilemma with this issue comes from gun storage, Lindley said.
“We have to make sure that every individual who has a firearm stores it properly. It must be stored with a lock and contain no ammunition. The ammunition must also be stored separately with a lock as well,” Lindley said.
Bill McGuire, an Army veteran, attended the event and said that although the safety precautions mentioned were important, they can impose a tremendous weight on law-abiding citizens.
“I have a friend who has no criminal history and has been wanting to purchase a gun for almost two years now, but just hasn’t been approved,” McGuire said. “For citizens who follow the law and respect others, like myself, it does not make sense to go through so much just to protect my family.”
McGuire said that gun violence has to do more with the lack of education for the use of firearms than the actual firearms themselves.
“I own a gun and my daughter knows that I own a gun,” McGuire said. “I educate my children about the dangers of firearms if they aren’t used properly and teach them how to use a firearm, but at the end of the day, I’m the one who has the key to the lock, not them.”
If more initiative went into training buyers in how to use a weapon then that could change some things, McGuire said.
Hollis-Brusky and the panelists closed the event with some advice for the audience on how to become involved in advocating for gun legislation.
“We have to be sure we are voting for candidates in government who support common sense legislation or we will be stuck in this phase forever,” Lieb said.
“We can never think we have to make a big difference,” Portantino said. “We just want to make a difference.”
This event was the second part of a three-part series that began in fall of 2018 with the first event being about gun trafficking.
The third part of this series will take place during the summer and will deal with personal stories from gun violence survivors.
Alondra Campos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.