US Senate candidates talk gun violence prevention in Monterey Park

Gun Rights

Since 11 people were killed at a dance studio in January, the tranquil community of Monterey Park has transformed into a nexus for political organizing around gun policy.   And on Friday afternoon California’s four Democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate came to the city to share their views on the subject.

They gathered at East L.A. College, about 2.5 miles from the scene of the massacre, for a discussion hosted by youth-led organization March for Our Lives, the People’s Town Hall and Southern California Crossroads.

The event marked the first time the four candidates — Katie Porter, D-Irvine; Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, and businesswoman Lexi Reese — appeared on one stage. It gave residents in Monterey Park and beyond the opportunity to hear their plans to combat the gun violence epidemic. 

March for Our Lives youth organizer Austin La, who is from the San Gabriel Valley, said he was excited that the candidates came to Monterey Park to discuss this critically important issue, but noted that what matters most is whether they hold true to their word in office.

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“Regardless of who wins this race, I hope that they keep the promises that they made here because we’re all too familiar with false promises,” said La. “They are in Monterey Park and have to understand that this is a community that’s healing, and they have to follow through.”

The urgency of addressing gun violence rises day by day. When the Monterey Park mass shooting took place on Jan. 21 it was the 33rd mass shooting of 2023. By Friday, Sept. 8, the day of the town hall, there had been 492 mass shootings and almost 30,000 gun violence deaths across America.

California is already a trailblazer for gun safety laws and its new senator will be responsible for continuing to lead the charge against gun violence on the national stage.

The three candidates now serving in Congress each highlighted the multiple gun safety laws they sponsored this year and emphasized the need for further federal legislation.

“We need to pass policies that save lives. It really is that simple,” said Rep. Katie Porter, who represents California’s 47th District in Congress. “We need to change the laws. And we need that change coming from Washington.”

Porter highlighted the need to push through strategies “that we know work” such as assault rifle bans, red flag laws and investment in mental health services.

Rep. Adam Schiff, who represents California’s 30th District, touted his recent sponsorship of the Equal Access to Justice for Victims of Gun Violence Act, which seeks to repeal a federal bill that currently shields gun industry actors from being sued by survivors of gun violence.

Schiff said it is essential to “repeal this immunity from liability so that we can hold the gun industry accountable.”

Schiff spoke firmly against the idea of improving school safety by arming teachers, pointing instead to the need to train teachers to support the mental health needs of students.

Porter echoed this sentiment, saying that policies like arming teachers and transparent backpacks are being pushed by the gun industry to distract from “real gun violence prevention.”

“Our teachers don’t need guns, they need a raise,” she said. “We don’t need transparent backpacks, we need backpacks with nutritious lunches in them and adequate school supplies.”

All four candidates highlighted the importance of creating systems to respond to people experiencing mental health crises that don’t involve the police.

Porter pointed to her support for the Mental Health Justice Act, which would create a grant program for local governments to train mental health professionals to respond to certain public safety calls for service.

Rep. Barbara Lee, who represents California’s 13th District, recently sponsored The Gun Records Restoration and Preservation Act, which would require the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the FBI to collect, preserve, and disclose gun records and gun tracing data.

During the town hall, Lee pointed to the racial disparity of the gun violence epidemic and the importance of keeping the racial justice movement alive even as attention to events such as the killing of George Floyd fade further into the past.

“As an African American woman, I know exactly the disproportionate impact of gun violence on black and brown people because I’ve lived it,” she said.

Lee also pointed out that, in general, Gen Z voters are more supportive of gun control laws than their older counterparts, She spoke to the importance of signing up more young people to vote.

“I believe it’s extremely important for young people to be politically active,” she said. “You have to make sure that the people that you elect are not those accountable to the NRA, because I see each and every day in Congress that that’s the reason we can’t get some of this gun safety legislation passed.”

Lexi Reese, a former Google executive, and the only Democratic candidate who has not held elected office, set herself apart from the other three by outlining a unique six point plan for addressing the gun violence epidemic.

It includes boycotting investors in the gun industry, requiring fingerprint locks on guns, studying the root causes of the epidemic, a 21 age limit for buying a firearm, banning gun sales to domestic abusers and using art to express the tragedy of those lost to gun violence.

Reese also called for defunding the police and diverting funding in community violence prevention and job development programs.

Lastly, she emphasized the need for a fresh wave of fighters, like herself, in the weary army of gun control advocates.

“My colleagues have been in Congress for a total of I think 50 years,” Reese said. “What I want to increase in Congress is the sense of urgency that you guys have.”

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