Politics

Family of San Bernardino victim wants to show Congress the face of gun violence

Trenna Meins doesn’t like the spotlight. But five weeks after her husband, Damian Meins, was killed at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, she and her daughters Tina and Tawnya want members of Congress to remember their faces and know their names.

Damian Meins and 13 others were killed Dec. 2 when Syed Rizwan Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, burst into a holiday gathering for San Bernardino County workers and shot them.

Trenna Meins was invited by Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) to be his guest during Tuesday’s State of the Union and the family felt they needed to stay in Washington for a week and meet with as many lawmakers and advocacy groups as possible.

“Our family isn’t comfortable in the foreground of anything. We’re people that stay behind the scenes,” Trenna Meins said. “If [talking to members] could help a little bit so that other families don’t have to go through what we are going through, then I think that’s worth it. It’s just something we feel like we have to do, not just for my husband. ”

Their first stop on Capitol Hill was the office of fellow Californian and gun rights advocate Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Corona).

“Maybe we brought to light some things he hadn’t thought of,” Tina Meins said. “We’re hoping that he puts a face to this tragedy that occurred and he sees how it personally is affecting not only this imaginary group of people out there that he doesn’t have personal contact with, but he sees how it has personally affected us.”

The hour-and-a-half-long meeting was heartfelt, Calvert said in a statement.

“No family should have to endure the pain and grief that the Meins family, and the families of the other victims, have been subjected to,” he said. “Obviously there are differing views on gun control in Congress, but we owe it to the Meins family, and the families of the other victims, to find areas of common ground. There is bipartisan support for mental health reform as well as taking a more aggressive approach to our intelligence gathering and sharing that information with local law enforcement.”

Calvert gave up his office’s ticket to the State of the Union so that Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Redlands) could invite both San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan and San Bernardino County Sheriff John McMahon. While they were in Washington, Calvert connected the law enforcement officials with members of the Appropriations Committee to talk about federal reimbursement for the emergency response.

Takano said he was struck by the Meins immediately.

When he called after the shooting to offer his condolences, Trenna asked him why the government tracks how much cold medicine containing pseudoephedrine a person buys, but doesn’t track bulk purchases of ammunition. Many states restrict cold medicine purchases because large amounts of pseudoephedrine are needed to make methamphetamine. Takano has begun using her argument.

“They recognize the 2nd Amendment is a reality," he said. "Their thinking was very practical. I was personally moved by their story, personally moved by their courage. I just thought it was important for people to see the Meins family.”

Trenna said when Takano first called, “I had a very long conversation with him and expressed some of the frustration that the family feels.”

A question about what those frustrations are elicited a deep sigh from Trenna, prompting her daughter Tina Meins to respond.

“We kind of get frustrated when people try to derail the conversation by only focusing on immigration, or Muslim Americans, or mental health, and they try to villainize certain groups,” Tina said. “That’s not helpful. If we didn’t have lax gun laws, if we didn’t have lots of loopholes available, then weapons wouldn’t be available for people to take out these aggressions.”

The Meins spent Tuesday with Takano, attending a pre-speech reception with other guests from the San Bernardino area including Loma Linda University Medical Center emergency department nurse James Parnell, who managed victim triage the day of the attack, and Annemarie Teall, the 911 dispatch supervisor who took the call and coordinated emergency response.

Wednesday morning they were back on Capitol Hill, meeting with Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Hillsborough) They also planned to meet with two gun control advocacy groups, Everytown for Gun Safety and Americans for Responsible Solutions and as many other members of Congress as possible before returning home this weekend.

“There is no way we’d like to be here under these circumstances,” Tina Meins said.

The Meins support executive actions President Obama took earlier this month that instructed law enforcement officials to warn private gun sellers that they may be vulnerable to prosecution if they don’t register with the government and conduct background checks on gun buyers. Those actions also proposed more money for mental health treatment, and ordered the Justice Department to hire more investigators to speed up background checks.

Still, the Meins said they want Congress to do more, such as reinstating the ban on assault weapons, or allowing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to spend federal money on gun violence research.

“We’re coming to everybody as people that are heartbroken, but not hysterical," Tina Meins said. "We’re here trying to have rational discourse about this.” 

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The United States, she said, shouldn’t put the 2nd Amendment above all others.

“My dad had a right to be alive and to pursue happiness and that was taken from him," Tina said. "We all have rights and we need to be respectful of each other’s rights and find compromises when they are necessary." 

Trenna Meins said they were “deeply disappointed” when Republicans repeatedly blocked attempts to ban people on the FBI’s terrorism watch-list from legally buying guns in the weeks after the shooting.

After 20 first graders were shot in Newtown, Conn., in 2013 and nine parishioners were shot in a church in 2015 in Charleston, S.C., and now 14 people killed at a work Christmas party in San Bernarndino, “to still not do anything is just unacceptable to me.” she said. “I’m asking that they be reasonable. That’s all I’m asking. I don’t understand what the problem is here.”

sarah.wire@latimes.com

Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter

Read more about the 55 members of California's delegation at latimes.com/politics

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