It’s a headline we once expected to see from Baghdad: A dozen civilians murdered in a hail of gunfire. Once hallmarks of distant and developing nations, these tragedies are increasingly becoming the sickening headlines of American cities. The fear of “if” America will suffer from a domestic gun rampage in any given year has been replaced by “how many?” Already this year, there have been at least six gun rampages resulting in deaths of multiple innocent bystanders.
Twenty-four years ago, we were teachers at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton when a lone gunman murdered five children and wounded 29 others. The horror and heartbreak of seeing children wounded and dying on a playground leaves a permanent scar on the soul. The awful memory of that day is brought back each time another mass shooting takes place. And what we thought was an anomaly proved to be a harbinger of even more senseless gun violence.
The killer that day was able to reload rapidly, replacing spent magazines with pre-loaded magazines quickly and inserting them into his AK-47. The horror forced lawmakers to act, and California passed the nation’s first ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons. By national standards, the ban was aggressive, but it hasn’t withstood the unrelenting desire of gun manufacturers to continue the profitable proliferation of military-style firearms in California communities.
Over the decades, the gun industry has exploited loopholes in the law by modifying the banned weapons. The rapid-reloading military-style assault rifle is just as prevalent in California today as it was before the Stockton massacre.
Gov. Jerry Brown has a bill at his desk that closes the loopholes decisively. Senate Bill 374, by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, would add semi-automatic rifles accepting detachable magazines to the list of banned assault weapons. The bill is a big step in restoring the original intent of the assault weapons ban. It zeroes in on a gun’s capability, rather than how the gun looks.
The assault rifles within the scope of SB 374 weren’t designed for hunting or home defense. They were designed for the battlefield, with the single purpose of killing as many people as possible in the shortest time possible. They are weapons of mass murder. They are available in your local Walmart.
The featureless mini-14 rifle with a detachable magazine is perfectly legal in California; it was used in the slaying of 69 Norwegians in 2011. Also legal is the featureless version of the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle with a detachable magazine, used in the 2012 massacre of 20 first-graders and six of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
In these tragedies and the dozens of others, firearms were used with devastating effect because the shooter was able to rapidly reload the magazines that hold the bullets and feed the gun.
Senate Bill 374 doesn’t ban these weapons or others in their class. The bill simply requires future AR-15-style rifles to have a fixed, non-detachable magazine holding no more than 10 rounds. While it won’t prevent someone determined to kill, SB 374 will severely limit a killer hell-bent on massacre.
These horrors have visited Newtown, Oak Creek, Aurora, and Tucson. They visited the armed campuses of Fort Hood, Virginia Tech and last week, the D.C. Naval Yard. In 1989, they came to our hometown here in California and they returned to Santa Monica earlier this year.
Urge Gov. Brown to sign Senate Bill 374. Your voice and his signature can help prevent another massacre.
Julie Schardt and Judy Weldon of Stockton are members of Cleveland School Remembers, a group dedicated to preventing gun violence locally and nationwide.