Just hours after a deadly mass shooting in Thousand Oaks, Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom on Thursday said California “can do more and do better on gun safety” and criticized the National Rifle Assn. and Republican leaders in Washington for blocking common-sense gun control.
A longtime champion for tighter restrictions on firearms, Newsom addressed the shooting in his first public appearance since his election Tuesday. He had planned to discuss his upcoming transition into the governor’s office but changed his plans after the tragedy.
“It’s [with] a heavy heart I come here a day or two after an election for governor. You want to be focused on other things,” Newsom told reporters in San Francisco, referring to the 12 people killed by a gunman, who was also found dead. “This is America. It’s got to change. This doesn’t happen anywhere else on the planet. We can’t allow this to be normalized.”
The two-term lieutenant governor said the last 24 hours had been a sobering reminder of the immense responsibilities held by California’s governor. By happenstance, Newsom on Thursday served as California’s acting governor because Gov. Jerry Brown was outside the state in Texas. Newsom said he had been briefed by leaders of the California Highway Patrol about the Ventura County shooting and by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection about a fast-spreading wildfire in Butte County that has forced widespread evacuations.
Newsom cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the gunman or circumstances surrounding the shooting, urging Californians to wait until the investigation takes place and more facts are known. But the Democrat said the culture of acceptance around mass shootings was abhorrent, and he criticized politicians in Washington for offering nothing “except hot air and rhetoric.”
“Suffice it to say, the response is not just prayers. The response cannot just be excuses. The response sure as hell cannot be more guns,” Newsom said. “The National Rifle Assn., I’ll say this, is bankrupt morally, and they need to be held to account for their rhetoric and for their actions.”
Two years ago, Newsom championed a successful state ballot measure to increase gun control in California, including requiring background checks to purchase ammunition. Gun advocates have filed a legal challenge against those restrictions, which is pending. On the campaign trail, Newsom said he would be tougher than Brown on gun control and disagreed with some of the governor’s vetoes on tougher gun restrictions.
The governor-elect started his news conference Thursday by praising the actions of Ventura County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus, who was killed in the Thousand Oaks shooting when he ran into Borderline Bar and Grill after the first gunshots were reported. Helus showed true bravery in an era in which heroism is sometimes exaggerated, Newsom said.
“Then there are real heroes like this sergeant, that actually saved lives, that walked in and through that act of heroism, there are families that are able to hug their loved ones tonight,” Newsom said. “There are lives that will change for generations because of his heroism.”
When asked about reports that the suspect, Ian David Long, was a former U.S. Marine who may have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Newsom said that he had empathy for veterans with PTSD and that the country as a whole has failed to provide proper care for them. He called behavioral health a “sensitive topic” and stressed that the vast majority of people with mental health issues are not violent.
Newsom noted that Brown signed a bill in September to impose a lifetime gun-ownership ban on people who have been hospitalized twice in a one-year period for mental health issues and deemed to be a danger to themselves or others. The measure does not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020, but Newsom said there’s no evidence that it would have prevented the suspect from owning a firearm if it had already been implemented.
Newsom held his news conference at the St. Anthony’s Foundation headquarters in San Francisco. Afterward, he and his wife, documentary filmmaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom, served meals to some of the thousands of homeless people who find refuge at the organization’s downtown campus.
During the campaign, Newsom said addressing the growing homelessness crisis in California would be one of his top priorities as governor. His rival in the race, Republican John Cox, said Newsom and Democratic leaders in Sacramento bear responsibility for the crisis because it was allowed to happen while they were in power.
“We all can do more, all can do better,” Newsom said. “One hundred and thirty-four thousand souls out in the street in his state, 24% of the nation’s homeless. That’s unacceptable and that’s our collective responsibility. It happened on our watch. That’s not Democrats’ watch or Republicans’ watch. That’s our watch.”
Newsom did not announce details on policies or programs he plans to pursue as governor, telling reporters he is “going to take some risks on policy proposals.”
Newsom said his top priority right now is the state budget, which he must submit to the California Legislature shortly after he is sworn into office in January. The process of crafting the spending plan is already underway by the Brown administration, but Newsom will inherit that responsibility with little time to make final changes.
He said he is still in the early stages of the transition and will soon select his chief of staff and other top advisors. Newsom is also trying to determine which members of the Brown administration want to stay or plan to leave, and he said his advisors are busy assessing each sector of the executive branch and sifting through resumes.
Newsom is expected to release more details about his plans soon, saying that building his administration will be a “bottom-up and not top-down” process.