On May 23, my life changed forever. On that tragic day, a young man with dangerous mental health issues murdered six college students – and injured many others – in Santa Barbara. One of them was my 20-year-old son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez.
In the immediate aftermath of Christopher’s death, I was overcome with a grief that’s almost impossible to describe.
But amid the anguish, I resolved to take on America’s extremist gun lobby and do everything I could to prevent gun violence tragedies. For too long, the gun lobby has prioritized profits over protecting our children and has coerced gutless politicians into supporting its dangerous view of guns for anybody, anywhere and anytime.
Even on the day after my son’s murder, I knew that the gun lobby was a major part of the problem that kills 86 people every day in our country. But it wasn’t until I became a gun violence prevention advocate that I saw for myself how National Rifle Association leaders and other gun extremist organizations fight against the common-sense proposals that could have helped saved my son’s life.
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Last week we made important progress in California when Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Assembly Bill 1014, an important public safety measure that will help save lives by allowing law enforcement officials or immediate family members to present evidence to a judge and obtain a restraining order prohibiting individuals who pose a significant danger to themselves or others from possessing guns.
The law sets up a process for family members and law enforcement – who are often the first to see warning signs indicating a dangerous person might become violent – to take action. It takes individual rights seriously and is hardly overreaching, merely allowing judges to issue an order removing guns for an emergency period of 21 days.
AB 1014 helps provide an answer to the question we all ask ourselves after a gun tragedy: “What could have been done to prevent it?”
When law enforcement was contacted about the man who would later kill my son, they went to his apartment and interviewed him. However, since he had not committed a crime and since police did not believe he met the criteria for commitment to a mental hospital, there was nothing they could do. He was legally allowed to own guns, and he ultimately used those guns to horrible effect.
Just after my son was killed, I very publicly declared that “not one more” child should die of senseless gun violence. That’s why I committed myself to fighting for stronger laws that will help prevent gun violence.
I saw how the NRA’s leadership – whose default response to gun tragedies is to ignore the issue of gun safety and instead point to the need for mental health reform – actively fought to keep this law from passing.
Once again, the NRA showed that its rhetoric about mental health is nothing more than a craven means of diverting attention away from its extremist agenda, since this bill does address mental health. NRA leaders don’t care about keeping kids safe; they care about protecting gun manufacturers.
It’s also worth noting that the NRA stood nearly alone in its opposition, and that California’s major law enforcement organizations supported the bill. The men and women of these organizations are the ones who must respond to these kinds of horrific events.
Overcoming the NRA’s opposition with the passage of AB 1014 revealed that when citizens stand up for common-sense gun laws and push their elected officials to do what’s right, politicians will vote on the side of public safety and against the gun lobby. It’s proof that the NRA is hardly invincible.
I watched from the sidelines when Newtown happened and didn’t do anything because I reasoned that something like this “could never happen to me.” I was wrong.
The terrible truth is that it can happen to anyone, anywhere. But tragedies like these can also inspire change. With the passage of this law, I’ve now seen how such action can result in real, life-saving measures.
I can’t bring back Christopher, but I can work to make sure others don’t suffer the devastating loss of a child to gun violence.
Fighting for common-sense laws and beating back NRA opposition like we did in California is the single best thing we can do to honor the legacy of my son and other victims and make sure their deaths were not in vain.