Recent school shooting brings call for reform

Taft College student Ali Moore showing support for gun reform

Melissa Puryear, Managing Editor

A local Bakersfield High School Democrat Club (Dems) student spoke on behalf of worried children, frustrated and concerned parents, families, school teachers and residents in Kern County on Feb. 19 at the corner of California Avenue and Stockdale Hwy at an assembled rally. Supporters rallied together to show solidarity in their demands for tighter gun law legislation, after Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old, took the lives of 17 children in a school mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14.

Lucy Brown, a member of the BHS Young Democrat Club (Dems), was accompanied by her supporters on a two-mile stretch on Feb. 19, supporters holding signs that demonstrated their angst about current gun laws that make obtaining a gun easier than it should be, and allowing assault rifles, that do not serve purposes of self-defense, to be easily accessible and more commonly a weapon of choice against innocent children and people. The group made their way from the 4900 block of California Avenue to the corner of Stockdale Highway and California Avenue, where Brown addressed those in attendance.

Brown expressed her worries for the students who had suffered in Florida, for the safety of local students, including herself, her mother, and her unrelenting demand for legislators, to see changes in gun legislation laws that will lead to preventing senseless mass shootings.

“On Saturday morning when I woke up I listened to a very impassioned speech by Emma Gonzales and she was one of the survivors of the Florida shooting and it’s hard to watch something like that on T.V. and watch people that are my age going through something so terrible and not put yourself in that situation. One of my favorite places to be is at my school. Listening to how worried my mother was, dropping me off the Friday after the shooting, was one of the worst things I’ve had to listen to in a while. I shouldn’t feel nervous going into a place where I’m supposed to learn safely,” Brown said to the crowd.

She has every right to be nervous. It has been widely reported that AR-15-style rifles have increasingly appeared in American mass shootings, including Aurora Colorado, Newton Massachusetts, San Bernardino California, Orlando Florida, Las Vegas Nevada, Sutherland Springs Texas and recently Parkland Florida.

It’s what motivated Brown to get the word out.

Brown’s supporters had plenty to say about what kind of change they would like to see. They voiced their concerns about current gun laws which make school students vulnerable in their classrooms and they said “enough is enough.”

They want legislators to be more proactive about gun legislation by making it harder for those who shouldn’t have guns, to get them, and to make these kinds of assault rifles and other assault weapons unattainable.

Many of the students and adults who marched weren’t opposed to owning guns. In fact, many were very open about being gun owners. They said they want responsible gun laws. They want to see weapons that are designed to kill, like semi-automatic weapons, banned.

Cheyanne Farley, a former Bakersfield College student who attended the rally demonstration and is a gun owner herself, demands responsible gun laws. She said, “as a gun owner I’m 100 percent in favor of hand guns, hunting weapons, long guns, but there is no need for any civilian to have maximum capacity ammo-mags and AR Semi-automatic rifles. Those are weapons of mass causality. They are not for self-defense. They are weapons of war. We’ve had too many murders, all with semi-automatic, automatic weapons in schools. No more ARs.”

As far as her thoughts about what triggered Cruz, the shooter in Florida, “It doesn’t matter. It absolutely doesn’t matter. He could have a broken heart. He can have a broken mind. He could be a broken child. He doesn’t get to slaughter people in school.”

Chris Crane, a BHS school educator and advisor for the Dems, who also attended the rally said that he was participating because his student [Brown] organized the event. He said, “they are scared,” and he wants something to be done about it.

“As a teacher I hear it every day about how they’re scared. This is the breaking point. We’re done. Enough is enough.”

Crane wants Congressman Kevin McCarthy to take action. That action to Crane would begin with addressing assault rifles and sporting rifle regulations. “They belong at the range.”

He went on to say, “Democrats are not against home security, we understand people need hand guns and shot guns to protect themselves. But assault rifles need to go to the gun range. Republicans are inactive on any kind of gun policies. It’s clear that we need some changes and this is not happening with McCarthy and it probably won’t be happening with Trump for a while.”

Kat Gontijo, a junior at BHS and president of the Dems, said, “Going to school on Friday after what happened on Wednesday [in Florida] was terrifying and especially what happened at Foothill, with the bullets being planted in the sink and Kern High School District did not say anything about it or showing any concern for our students, very much worries me. We [Americans] fail to recognize that gun violence is a real issue in America and mental illness is one of the problems that also occurs in America. We need to focus on controlling everything that’s going on and we should feel safe on campus.”

She said that obtaining a weapon should require “more frequent background checks.”

Sofia Lepe-koharchick, a Fruitvale Jr. High student said, “the shooting could have been prevented if we had gun safety, and if we had stricter laws on guns and have a higher background check.  I think that we have failed to protect our schools by someone easily getting a gun and can just as easily walk onto campus and harm the students.”

Alli Moore, a Taft College student said, “Violence in school is not okay. I should feel safe in the classroom setting. I shouldn’t have to keep looking at the door making sure no one is going to shoot me. Change something. Do something. Stop letting people put money in your [legislators] pocket and sit idly by.”

She said that the greatest mistake we have made in America is to allow things to happen instead of changing things when they do happen. She said that people believe that mass shootings will stop, that “something will change.”

But her solution isn’t to sit idly by. It begins with policy change, not apathy. “We have to do something different. I think it’s definitely getting attention [the rally] and attention is definitely going to change McCarthy or someone’s going to see it and they’re going to be like, ‘ok, the people care, so we should start caring at least and start to do something.’”

That something may be found in the Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) law. The GVRO law is now undergoing some scrutiny and possible revision. Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco will reintroduce the law with some updated provisions, to provide a wider coverage of safety reporting by others, when a dangerous individual is identified. The current GVRO permits only law enforcement and family to seek restraining orders against individuals who may pose a physical harm to themselves and others, and gives authorities legal possession of weapons that the individual may have in their possession. But now the law will go even further should it be approved, to permit high school and college staff and faculty, classmates, employers, co-workers, even mental health professionals license to seek a GVRO against someone they suspect as being a danger to public safety through their behavior, actions and/or threats, provided reasonable evidence can be submitted to support their claims. It is the hope of California legislators that by adding additional members of society who are in direct contact with someone who may pose a threat or exhibit dangerous signs and tendencies, that tragedies like the one that happened in Florida can be averted in California.

But Ting is not the only trying to revamp existing laws. The original cosponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban, Congressman Don Beyer, who represents Virginia’s 8th District, last week reemphasized his stand on gun legislation. He said that he supports “a wide array of gun legislation,” and he will be reintroducing the Assaults Weapons Ban “in the coming weeks.”

In an email Congressman Beyer wrote, “what is so different right now is that America’s young people, those directly impacted by the tragedy, are speaking out to demand action from their leaders. To those of us in Congress who have been fighting for gun reforms for years with little to show for it, this change has shown a ray of hope. I believe this is a moment we should seize to change gun laws and save lives … I have been a vocal supporter of reinstating funding for research into the causes of and potential solutions to gun violence at the Centers for Disease Control. And I will continue to push hard for universal background checks. But there is a measure that is particularly relevant in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that I have been focused on. Before a young man in Florida took 17 lives, there were an alarming number of warning signs which still failed to stop him from bringing an AR-15 rifle to the school which had expelled him. Last year I joined two colleagues to introduce a bill called the Gun Violence Restraining Order Act, which would give families and law enforcement a major tool to act on the red flags the perpetrators often display before making the decision to kill. Some experts argue that a law like this one could have prevented the shooting in Florida. This measure could also go a long way toward preventing suicides by enabling families to keep loved ones from getting guns when they are in a time of crisis. Connecticut, California, Indiana, Washington, and Oregon have all adopted variations of this legislation. Gun violence restraining order are saving lives, according to a Duke University School of Medicine study, without violating gun owners’ due process rights, and I believe we should expand them nationwide. This idea has drawn recent support from conservatives, gun advocates, and members of both parties. The Gun Violence Restraining Order Act is something that I hope and believe Congress could actually pass. I will continue working to build support for this and other measures which I believe could save American lives.”

Many of those who attended the rally could be heard saying that this is just the beginning. They have no intent on backing down from the long legislative process ahead, to hold legislators responsible for making sure that when people are harmed or killed by assault rifles, they take action and push for change that will prevent those who have the ability to get these weapons are unable to get them, and then use them with the intent to harm others.

It appears that with Congressman Beyer and other legislators, this time, this tragedy just might stand out as a definable moment for laws and actions that can carry more weight for the people, that these legislators have been hoping for, and could carry the nation a step closer to protecting children, teachers, and communities, from those who could pose a threat.