Gun owners, gun control foes flex muscles in California
In Sacramento, hundreds rallied in front of the Capitol in Sacramento on Saturday to protest efforts to restrict gun ownership.
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Gun Club drew big crowds.
Many patrons at the gun show were unaware that Saturday was National Gun Appreciation Day, which gun activists intended to use to remind President Obama and Congress of the people’s right to keep and bear arms and to protest any proposed gun restrictions in the wake of the mass killing last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn.
Range master Joseph Im said the crowd at his facility was typical for a weekend. But he said the range had seen an uptick in its ammunition sales (the facility sells ammunition, but not firearms) since the Sandy Hook shooting and the renewed debate over gun control, as local gun stores had sold out.
Thomas Brambila, 38, and Tamara Vravis, 43, had come to the range on a first date. Brambila said he had grown up target shooting, although he does not own a gun now because he has young children in the house. He called Obama’s gun control proposal “misguided.”
The president has called for an assault weapons ban, a universal background check system for every gun sale and a ban on high-capacity magazines.
Vravis said she grew up on a ranch in Minnesota, where guns were common. She agreed with Brambila.
“I think if you really want to get a gun, you can get a gun. It’s going to hurt the law-abiding citizens,” she said of the move to tighten up gun laws.
Jonathan Wright came to celebrate his upcoming 24th birthday with a group of friends before returning to school at Humboldt State University. Wright said he had grown up with video games and likes to test his accuracy in a real-life setting. He approved of the idea of Gun Appreciation Day.
“Yay for the 2nd Amendment, especially in the times we’re in now,” he said.
Alex Katz, 25, had a different perspective. Katz said he goes shooting a couple times a month at ranges, but described himself as pro-gun control.
“I think it’s a little tasteless right now,” he said of the Gun Appreciation Day concept.Katz said he thought it was positive that people were talking about the issue of guns, but added, “It’s sad that it takes these horrible, horrible things happening for people to talk about it.”
While some people were celebrating their love of guns, others held events to draw attention to gun violence. A network of churches around the country planned a Gun Violence Prevention Sabbath in response to the Sandy Hook shooting, with services centering around community members who have lost family members to gun violence.
Services planned at City of Refuge Church in Gardena on Sunday were expected to draw thousands. Hollywood Seventh Day Adventist Church held a smaller gathering of a few dozen Saturday.
Carmen Taylor Jones and Darryl Jones spoke about their 15-year-old daughter, Breon Taylor, who was killed five years ago Saturday when two young men shot through a window into the Lakewood Masonic Lodge, where Breon was one of several hundred young people attending a birthday party. Breon and a 17-year-old boy were killed.
It was the day before Taylor Jones’ 45th birthday.
“At that moment, in the twinkling of an eye, everyone’s lives, some of their destinies were interrupted,” Taylor Jones said. Breon never got to have her first boyfriend or attend her prom. The gunmen who shot into the party, who were 16 and 19 at the time, were eventually sentenced to a combined 400 years in prison.
Taylor Jones, who grew up in Watts, said she sees memorials for other young people who were gunned down and worries about the safety of her 15-year-old son.
“When he’s with me in South Los Angeles, I almost feel like he’s a target, like he has a mark on him,” she said.
Taylor Jones said she believes that the Sandy Hook massacre got people’s attention in a way that individual tragedies like her daughter’s death couldn’t. She called Obama’s gun control proposal “a step in the right direction.”
“It’s just time for us to have some very serious conversations,” she said.
The Sacramento protest was one of dozens held at state capitals nationwide as politicians push new gun laws.
“They keep adding more and more laws,” said Wes Holst, who hosts a radio show about guns in Santa Cruz. “More laws don’t prevent crime.”
Some people waved flags or hoisted signs saying “Hands off my guns” and “Gun laws don’t stop criminals bullets do,” and many spoke fearfully of restrictions they say would leave them defenseless against criminals or even a government they view with suspicion.
California has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, and there were no firearms to be seen at Saturday’s rally. A few people wore empty holsters.
Daniel Silverman, an information technology consultant who lives in Tracy, said he organized the Sacramento event as part of a grass-roots campaign called Guns Across America. He said the rally was not connected to Gun Appreciation Day, which was started by a Republican consulting firm based in Washington.
He said politicians have unfairly singled out firearms as the cause of violence. A gun, he said, is only “a piece of plastic, aluminum and steel that does no harm in the hands of good men and women.”
Christina Marotti, 33, of East Sacramento brought her two daughters, ages 2 and 4, to the rally. One had a sign saying “My mom loves guns” and the other had a sign saying “Arm my teacher.”
“Wherever you take away the right to have guns, the crime rate increases,” she said. “As a mother, that scares me.”
In schools, she said, “our kids are open game.”
Several protesters and speakers said guns were a key part of their personal freedom.
“We’re not fighting for our right to be sportsmen,” said Jonathan Zachariou, a pastor in Davis. Guns, he said, are the “best way to suppress tyranny.”
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--Abby Sewell and Chris Megerian
Photo: Business was brisk at the Los Angeles Gun Club. But according to employee Joseph Im, left, the club is busy every weekend. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times