Other Views

If 20 children were massacred at a Connecticut elementary school in 2012 and the sensible gun control proposals that followed were handily defeated, is there any way ordinary citizens can ever overcome the combined forces of the gun lobby and the large chunk of Congress it owns?

I put the question to Loren Lieb, whose son was shot and wounded 20 years ago this month at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills.

On Aug. 10, 1999, Loren Lieb was at work and so was her husband, Alan Stepakoff, when they learned of the shooting at the Jewish Community Center. Their sons, Seth, 8, and Josh, 6, were both there when a white supremacist on a mission to kill Jews arrived. Seth was OK, but Josh was shot in the leg and the hip and was rushed to the hospital.

He and four other victims survived their injuries, but the same shooter later shot and killed a Filipino American mail carrier in Chatsworth. Josh recovered physically but struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, and the sound of helicopters and sirens were triggers for a while, Lieb said.

Lieb has been volunteering for years with the San Fernando Valley chapter of Brady United Against Gun Violence, as well as with the West L.A.-based Women Against Gun Violence.

The focus is on educating the public about gun safety and the daily toll from gun suicide and homicide, not just mass shootings, and Lieb said volunteers can do any number of things to help.

“Really, the first big thing is to educate yourself. When my kid got shot 20 years ago, I had no idea what the gun laws were or what you had to do to get a gun. I didn’t know the various aspects of the gun and ammo industry and how they’re regulated,” Lieb said. “We educate the public, we also educate physicians, faith groups, school groups — anybody who wants to have us as speakers. And we work on legislation.”

For years, the National Rifle Association has been an immovable force, and the gun lobby will keep putting its considerable money and muscle into the fight against gun control.

Margot Bennett, the executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, said she has been fighting for gun control since the mass shooting in 1984 at a San Ysidro McDonald’s. “About three years ago, a very dear friend of mine committed suicide with a gun,” Bennett said. “I set about to take action, and the Los Angeles City Council … passed a suicide prevention ordinance that requires all gun stores and sellers to post suicide prevention information. Not everything has to be a big action. You can make a difference.”

Lieb laid out a brief list of gun control priorities that get no traction, no matter how many innocent people are slaughtered. “We should ban military weapons, we should ban high-capacity magazines and we should have background checks,” she said.

Haters and mass shooters have been around a long time, but we’re living in a particularly toxic and terrifying moment. The darkest corners of social media offer both inspiration and audience to the angry, aggrieved and delusional, and we have a president whose most vile instinct is to turn people against each other for his own political gain.

“Learn the facts. Know who’s doing what and vote accordingly, vote single issue, vote locally, state and nationally,” Bennett said. “Reach out to organizations like Women Against Gun Violence and sign up for our weekly action alerts. We call legislators and talk about legislation and we share data with people because we operate on facts and not feelings.”

There’s been a long string of mayhem since the JCC shooting in 1999. Synagogues and churches and other religious institutions have been attacked since then, along with schools, shopping centers, movie theaters, and on and on and on. There have been more than 250 this year alone.

So many, it’s hard to keep track of them all.

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Lopez writes for the Los Angeles Times.


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