By Brian CHERNICK
Representative Adam Schiff sat down with a panel Monday night to discuss gun violence in America at the Witherbee Auditorium at the L.A. Zoo in what is to be the first of a series of conversations with constituents of California’s 28th district.
Schiff and company spent much of the nearly two-hour event detailing how they became involved in gun safety and gun control advocacy. They showcased their current work to provide the audience suggestions on how to get involved, better understand the situation and discuss matters.
The group aligned across three primary focal points: preventing criminals from acquiring firearms, gun safety technology and creating a database network between various local, state and federal agencies to provide more comprehensive background checks.
The congressperson was joined by Rick Zbur, executive director of Equality California, and Loren Lieb, co-president of San Fernando Valley’s Brady Campaign, along with actor and Everytown for Gun Safety Creative Council member Jason George.
Schiff expressed the need for dialogue in the wake of the Orlando tragedy in June at the gay nightclub Pulse where 49 people were killed in one of the country’s deadliest mass shootings.
For two years, Zbur has worked with Equality California, a statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization whose stated mission is to “achieve and maintain full and lasting equality, acceptance, and social justice for all people in our diverse LGBT communities.”
Zbur spoke about the disparate impact of violence on the LGBTQ community, specifically citing Orlando as a call-to-action to join in support for stronger gun control legislation.
George used part of his time to tell the audience and try to convince gun owners that the efforts to enact gun control legislation were not an attempt to impede or abolish the Second Amendment or the rights it protects.
Loren Lieb, whose 6-year-old son had been a victim of gun violence, stressed the problematic patchwork of legislation that can vary widely state-to-state, urging a need for a more national system.
In August 1999, white supremacist Buford Furrow drove from Tacoma, Washington to Granada Hills, California in a van filled with multiple rifles, pistols and 6,000 rounds of ammunition with the intent of attacking a Jewish community center. Months prior to the shooting, Furrow had undergone treatment for mental illness while in the custody of the state of Washington.
Despite laws that already prohibit or limit the accessibility of firearms from those with a history of mental illness, Lieb stated that a majority of guns used in crimes come from a particular 5% of “bad apple gun shops” that do not perform thorough background checks.
While there was an apparent consensus among the vast majority of the audience to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, some attendees expressed differentiating views on the exact solutions.
The second half of the town hall opened the floor, allowing attendees to address Schiff and the panel with questions, suggestions and concerns.
Two separate, self-described gun owners expressed skepticism of the efficacy of enacting more gun laws in an already heavily regulated California and disagreed with George’s earlier comments that restrictions on guns and ammunition was compatible with the Second Amendment.
“My big problem here, guys, is that California has had some of the strictest gun laws for at least the past four years,” an attendee said. “You keep on saying you don’t want to take our guns, we’re not here to take your guns, but as a resident in California I see that all the time.”
Other individuals went the opposite direction, though, objecting to the panel’s lack of a more hardline stance which they felt was necessary in order to curb gun violence effectively.
“Everybody has said, ‘Oh, I’m not against guns. I want people to be sensible, I want people to have guns’ and I say no,” one woman said. “Why don’t you just say, why don’t we all say, we have to get rid of the guns?”
A common refrain through the discussion was the mention of the National Rifle Association’s influence within government. Schiff expressed concern that some lawmakers are afraid of the potential backlash from voters if they take a stance against the NRA.
This left some feeling hopeless.
Janice Reeder, who attended the town hall that night with one attendee, stated despite how informative she found the meeting, she was no more hopeful leaving than she was when arriving to the meeting.
“I’m not saying it’s futile, I’m an optimist,” she said. “But I’m not sure it will be in my lifetime because the NRA is so powerful.”
Proposition 63, which will appear on the Nov. 8 ballot, was also mentioned throughout the discussion.
“Firearms. Ammunition Sales. Initiative Statute,” or Prop 63, proposes prohibiting the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines and, if voted into law, will “require most individuals pass a background check and obtain authorization from the California Dept. of Justice to purchase ammunition.”
Zbur described the proposition as more than just legislation but as a symbolic message to the rest of the nation.
“It’s really important that we send a message in California that the public supports strong gun safety legislation,” Zbur said. “We think it will have a national impact when people see the public support.”