By Congresswoman Julia Brownley
Originally published in the VC Star
It was 2005. Jan and her husband, Tim, had just arrived home from a Memorial Day weekend trip to Big Bear. They were returning the boat they had borrowed from Tim’s best friend when they were brutally shot in a Thousand Oaks driveway. Tim survived, but Jan didn’t.
Larry was born in Ventura. He loved nature and crocheting. Targeted because of his sexual orientation and gender identity, he was shot twice in the back of the head, executed by one of his classmates at his junior high school in Oxnard, 10 years ago last month.
Veronika grew up in Thousand Oaks and loved to play softball. In fact, she was the only girl among 500 players in the Westlake baseball league growing up. In May 2014, she was taking a break from organizing a charity event with her sorority sisters at UC Santa Barbara when she was killed by a student on a shooting spree.
Jan, Larry, and Veronika. I carry their memories with me everyday, alongside those of the countless other victims of senseless gun violence who are being slaughtered across the country — day after day, week after week, year after year. Bright futures extinguished, families destroyed, communities shattered.
This issue is deeply personal to me. I’ve met Jan’s son, Christian, and heard him express his sorrow that his mother will never know his wife. Veronika’s father, Bob, brought his daughter’s ashes to Capitol Hill to impress upon my colleagues the loss he and his wife, Colleen, will face for the rest of their lives. I’ve met with community members and students who were forever impacted by Larry’s death.
Time and again, we face unspeakable tragedies that have been made much worse because weapons of war too easily get in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.
Time and again, we extend our thoughts and prayers. But when we try to discuss policies that might address these tragedies, we’re told it’s too soon, or that we’re exploiting the victims, or that we need to wait until we know all the facts, or the tragedy in question just could not have been stopped. And the conversations fade to the background until the next time.
When 97% of the American people support universal background checks, 67% support a ban on assault weapons, 83% support a waiting period to buy a gun, and 87% support spending more money on mental health screenings and treatment — how is it possible that Congress has not acted?
It’s not because of partisan ideology in Congress, as some would have you believe. There are bipartisan bills in the House to tighten the background check system, to allow family members to seek a court order to prevent a loved one from purchasing firearms if they pose a risk of injury to themselves or others, and to ban the type of “bumpstock” used in the Las Vegas shooting.
With such overwhelming support from the American people, and enough votes from Republicans and Democrats to move legislation forward, why do Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuse to put legislation up for a vote?
It’s likely because the NRA — which, let’s be frank, is largely funded and completely controlled by gun manufacturers — has spent upwards of $100 million since Sandy Hook in 2012, to make sure legislation doesn’t go on the floor that will impede sales. With 300 million guns owned in a country with a population just over that many, I’d say they’ve been very successful.
Unfortunately, the more than 1,840 men, women and children killed in mass shootings since 2012, their families, and their communities have paid the price.
It sounds bleak, but not all hope is lost. Out of the tragedy of the Parkland shooting, I’ve seen more energy, more grassroots organization, and more involvement from young people — the future leaders of our country — than I have ever seen before.
From the Women’s March, to the fight to protect healthcare, to the marches in solidarity with Dreamers, to the inspirational young people holding incalcitrant legislators’ feet to the fire — the power of the people should not be underestimated.
There will be marches across the country on March 24. Because Jan, Larry, Veronika, and the thousands of others killed by gun violence each year, cannot speak out, I’ll be there to speak for them. I hope you will be, too.