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California advocates recommit to fight over gun control 

By Antonio Ray Harvey 

Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO — To commemorate National Gun Violence Awareness Month, anti-gun violence advocates from around the state gathered at the State Capitol June 3.

Wearing orange to honor survivors and to symbolize a future without gun violence, representatives from groups such as the California Chapters of Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action joined with lawmakers to elevate prevention and to promote and coordinate gun control efforts in California and around the country.

Guests included Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, State Treasurer Fiona Ma, state Sen. Susan Rubio, D-West Covina, and Assemblymen Mike Gipson, D-Gardena, and Rick Zbur, D-West Hollywood. 

“Over 120 lives and hundreds are wounded because of gun violence every single day,” Kounalakis said. “And most tragic of all, our children, our kids, are being gunned down. Firearms are the No. 1 cause of death of children in the United States.”

Wearing orange during Gun Violence Awareness Month began after 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago in 2013. Just one week before, Pendleton marched with her high school majorette squad in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade. Responding to her death, friends pled with others to wear orange to raise awareness about gun violence.

Many of the volunteers with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action who stood with the legislators had been affected by — or have lost loved ones to — gun violence.

Jennifer Redmond lost her 19-year-old daughter Sarayah Jade Redmond in September 2020, to a stray bullet while she was watching a movie in an apartment building in North Sacramento.

Debra Ellison, from the Stockton Chapter of Moms Demand Action, told everyone that she is a “gun violence survivor” and that the “path” chose her in February 2018 when her son was cut down while trying to stop an altercation between two individuals.

Lanisha Jones, a member of Youth Alive!’s The Khadafy Washington Project, shared that she had lost three brothers in 2013, 2017 and 2023, to gun violence in the Bay Area. Two of the homicides have yet to be solved.

“Imagine calling detectives over and over again hoping that they can give you an update and they have no information years after the incidents,” Jones said. “Imagine that you believe (the person) responsible is walking around free.”

The Khadafy Washington Project sends crisis responders into the immediate aftermath of each Oakland homicide to support the families and friends of victims. It also provides emergency financial assistance, relocation services, urgent help applying for victim compensation and planning funerals.

Gipson said he led a seven-mile “Mothers In Mourning March” in Watts last September, with 1,000 mothers who experienced the pain and death of loved ones behind firearms.

The march was hosted by community organizations such as A New Beginning 4 You Foundation, Brady Community Empowerment Movement, East Side Riders Bike Club, Everytown for Gun Safety, Grieving Hearts Foundation, Justice for Murdered Children, NAACP Compton Branch, Watts Area Ministers, Watts Gang Task Force and Women of Watts.

“You see gun violence is personal to me,” Gipson said. “I just didn’t jump on the bandwagon. Gun violence knocked on our door.

“As a member of the California Assembly, as a former police officer, I understand that our babies are faced with trauma each and every day, fearing that they will be the next statistic.”

Advocates say firearm injuries and deaths have spiked over the years and are adversely affecting children and adolescents.

According to a February report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, firearms kill more children and adolescents than any other cause, surpassing motor vehicle crashes.

“We cannot quit fighting this horrific epidemic that is taking over our nation,” Ellison said. “Our loved ones are so much more than a number cited on a tally in the ongoing political war over the senseless use of, and access to, weapons.”

Young children who have lost a parent to gun violence were also highlighted at the event. 

Deborah Grimes’ grandson Jayceon “Ace” Grimes was 4 when his father Greg “Najee” Grimes, 31, was gunned down in front of a nightclub three blocks from the State Capitol on July 5, 2022.

According to a May 4 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association, between 1999 and 2020, approximately 1.19 million youth in the country lost a parent due to drug poisoning or firearms. According to the California Department of Justice’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention’s August 23 report, 30 years ago, California’s gun-related murder rate was the third highest in the country.

By 2022, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that California had the seventh lowest gun death rate in the country.

The state has passed several laws to address the epidemic, including universal background checks, bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a mandatory 10-day waiting period to purchase firearms, and an increase in the minimum age (21) to purchase a gun.

“We refuse to accept it as a reality,” Kounalakis said of gun violence in California. “Thanks to the governor and the Legislature, California has the toughest gun-control laws in the nation.”

On June 6, state Attorney General Rob Bonta released a report from the California Department of Justice’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention that shows more people are benefitting from the state’s nine court protection orders — including domestic violence restraining orders and gun violence restraining orders — that can restrict an abusive or dangerous person’s access to guns.

“We hope this report will send a clear message to lawmakers, advocates, community organizations, other states, and anyone interested in seriously addressing the gun violence crisis: Protection orders save lives,” Bonta said. “California has led the way by providing multiple protection order options to protect survivors and disarm individuals perpetrating violence and abuse. We have a strong safety toolkit.”

Antonio Ray Harvey is a reporter for California Black Media.

       
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