Op-Ed: The latest San Bernardino shooting brings back memories of my son, who was killed in Isla Vista

SAN BERNARDINO CA APRIL 11, 2017 --- Emily Swayer, 26, with her two children Trayvon, 7, left, and H
Emily Swayer, 26, with her two children Trayvon, 7, left, and Honey, 4, stops by to pay her respect at a makeshift memorial for the shooting victims of North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino on April 11.
(Los Angeles Times)

News that a domestic abuser shot and killed his estranged wife and an 8-year-old boy at North Park Elementary School in San Bernardino on Monday brought back memories of my only child, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, who was shot and killed in the May 2014 rampage in Isla Vista, near UC Santa Barbara, where Chris was a student.

The Isla Vista killer murdered his three roommates, then drove through town shooting people. He shot 10 UCSB students; three died, including Chris. All this in a college community where our loved ones should have been safe.

Californians — and Americans — should not have to live this way. It is simply unacceptable that more than 90 Americans are shot and killed every day; hundreds more are shot and wounded.

Since Chris died, I have met hundreds of families whose loved ones have been killed by gun violence, including at schools. I’m horrified that families in San Bernardino are suffering today the pain my family has lived with every day for three years.


Californians — and Americans — should not have to live this way.

The shooting at North Park marked the 220th school shooting since 2013 — and the 12th in 2017 alone. It reflects a few grisly facts about life in America: When it comes to gun violence against women, the United States is the most dangerous country in the developed world. And the United States is the only developed country where we routinely see our elementary school students on lockdown. Schools should be safe havens for learning math and science — not places where students learn how to duck and cover.

Monday’s atrocity was not a mass shooting by many definitions, but it reflects some of the same trends you see when you look at such shootings. Research from Everytown for Gun Safety shows that more than half of mass shootings are related to domestic or family violence. And, as happened in San Bernardino, women and children are all too often in a shooter’s crosshairs.

Given how much bloodshed San Bernardino has already seen — at the Inland Regional Center in 2015, and in everyday acts of gun violence that never make the news — it is easy to feel helpless.


But we can do more, much more, as a society.

We can fight for laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. Domestic violence affects millions of American women and children, and guns in the hands of domestic abusers can turn mistreatment and violence into murder. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation makes it five times more likely that a woman will be killed.

National laws that keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers — by requiring background checks for all gun sales and ensuring that prohibited abusers relinquish guns in their possession — are just common sense. States that require background checks for all handgun sales see 47% fewer women shot to death by intimate partners than states that do not have this requirement.

Since 2013, more than 20 states have enacted laws to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, including measures signed by Republican governors in New Jersey and Utah just this year, with other good bills moving forward in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

We also must resist the gun lobby’s push to put guns into schools and onto college campuses.

In 2016, state legislatures across the country introduced 15 bills that would have pushed guns into schools, and 18 bills that would have forced guns onto college campuses. These were nearly all defeated, although Tennessee enacted a guns on campus bill last year despite strenuous opposition from college leaders, law enforcement and gun safety advocates.

And in California this year, we have a chance to pass a good, proactive law that will protect students and teachers by keeping guns out of K-12 schools. Because the last thing we need is to allow people with a bare minimum of training to carry concealed, loaded guns into our kids’ schools.


Even as we grieve for North Park victims Karen Smith and her student Jonathan Martinez, we must also strive for a world in which there is never another day like Monday. We must reject the gun lobby’s vision of America — guns everywhere, for everyone, with no questions asked — and demand that not one more innocent man, woman or child be killed by senseless gun violence in our country.

Richard Martinez, whose son, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, was shot and killed in the May 2014 shooting in Isla Vista, Calif., is the outreach associate for Everytown for Gun Safety.

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