Days after a gunman fatally shot 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, anger gave way to action as California lawmakers advanced a raft of gun laws.
State hearings on 11 firearm safety bills introduced in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shooting in December 2015 took on greater import this week with the nation still reeling from the June 12 attack in Florida.
In an Assembly subcommittee meeting Tuesday, Democrats wrangled with National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist Dan Reid, calling him “vicious,” “heartless” and “crazy” for protecting gunmen who “terrorize our streets.”
Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell) could barely contain his contempt.
“Less than 72 hours ago, 49 people were slain in a nightclub in Orlando,” Low, an openly gay man, told Reid from the dais. “It’s very difficult for me to sit here and look you in the eye and have respect for you, Dan.”
Low blamed NRA lobbying for allowing 29-year-old Omar Mateen—a man twice investigated for terrorism ties by the FBI—to legally buy a Sig Sauer MCX.
“Of course the reason they were murdered was basically because of your organization, Dan,” Low said.
The proposed Assembly bills would ban so-called “bullet buttons,” which make it easier to reload magazines on some rifles, and limit long-gun purchases to one a month. Others would crack down on false stolen gun reports, allow restraining orders to prevent gun ownership and close loopholes allowing the sale of gun parts.
The gun lobby argued that the slate of new laws would do little to protect the public and would burden lawful gun owners in a state that already has some of the strictest firearm rules in the nation. California has long outlawed assault weapon sales and high-capacity magazines. There’s also a 10-day waiting period for gun buys as opposed to the few-day wait in Florida.
Legislators in both the Assembly and state Senate public safety committees approved the measures Tuesday in hopes of rushing them to the governor’s desk by the end of the month.
On the national level, Senate Democrats trudged through a 15-hour filibuster that forced a compromise Thursday with Republican leaders agreeing to allow votes on proposed gun rules.
Closer to home, Low said he’s heartened to see the swift transition from grief to resolve.
“As you can imagine, the severity of the responsibility for me as a lawmaker is not lost on me,” he told San Jose Inside.
Low, who flew to Los Angeles last weekend to march in the city’s gay pride parade, awoke Sunday morning to news that a gunman mowed down scores of people at Pulse, an iconic LGBT nightclub.
“I was in my hotel room and I just could not get out of bed,” he said. “I was just stunned by what happened. I was confused.”
As reports of the slaughter played out on TV, Low began to receive texts and calls from friends, which prompted him to head out to the gay pride parade to march with other lawmakers and the group Equality California. The normally celebratory event felt somber and tense, Low said. People were crying and hugging and trying to make sense of what happened.
“During the parade, people came up to me, they were very emotional, and said, ‘Enough is enough,’” Low said. “They said, ‘No more praying for change. What are you going to do about this?’”
He carried that sense of urgency to the Assembly floor days later. Having come from a family of law enforcement—a stepdad worked at Elmwood, his mom at Santa Clara County’s Department of Corrections and a brother as a policeman in two Bay Area cities—Low said his stance on gun laws has shifted over time.
“This has been a bit of an evolution for me,” he said. “But given these tragedies over the past decade, and most specifically since Orlando, this hits home. … And if you think about the symbolism of a gay nightclub, which represents a place of freedom, a place to be yourself and a place of love—when that’s attacked, it’s not just an assault to the LGBT community, it’s an assault on all Americans.”