Survivors and victims’ family members help California Democrats put a face on gun violence
“This is what gun violence looks like,” Christian Heyne said, holding up a photo of his mother, Janice, his voice breaking at times.
“Gun violence looks like my wedding day, when as I’m watching my wife walk down the aisle and as it’s one of the most emotional days of my life, I know that my mom will never know who she is, she’ll never know my wife,” he said.
Heyne, who grew up in Thousand Oaks, joined family members of more than 60 gun violence victims at the Capitol on Thursday as part of a Democratic effort to humanize the statistics they have been citing so frequently during the debate in Congress.
More than 30,000 Americans die from being shot each year, and Heyne’s mother was one of them.
Since the Dec. 2 shooting massacre that killed 14 people and wounded 21 others at a holiday party in San Bernardino, Democrats, led by the California delegation, have pushed repeatedly for Congress to pass some kind of gun legislation before members leave for the year.
It was a somber standing-room-only news conference. One by one, men and women approached the lectern, holding up photos of a loved one killed by gun violence. The names were different, but each description ended the same way: “Honor, with action.”
As they finished, the group held a banner covered in signatures with the inscription, “Love for San Bernardino.”
“Look how far the reach of gun violence goes. It’s every community, it’s every single place,” Heyne said as he gestured to the people behind him. They had little in common, save a missing loved one. “It’s just frustrating, it’s upsetting and we can do better.”
Both of Heyne’s parents were shot while they were returning a boat that they had borrowed from a friend. The friend was killed by a man already blocked by a restraining order. Heyne’s mother also was fatally wounded.
His mother’s death spurred Heyne to become an advocate, and he is now legislative director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence in Washington.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who arranged the dramatic news conference, said her party is pushing to remove longstanding language from a must-pass spending bill that prohibits the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from funding research on the causes of gun violence.
Pelosi noted Republicans need support from Democrats to pass the spending bill to keep the government open — so they should make concessions.
An original author of the language, former Arkansas Rep. Jay Dickey, has repeatedly called for the ban to be lifted.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) wouldn’t weigh in on whether the language should be removed.
“We’re in the middle of negotiating an enormous, yearlong omnibus appropriations, those negotiations are ongoing right now while we speak,” Ryan said. “The last thing I want to do is negotiate through the media.”
In recent days, Rep. Mike Thompson (D-St. Helena), chairman of the House’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, and others have repeatedly called for the House to just close up shop and head home if Republican leaders refused to allow a vote on Republican-sponsored legislation to prohibit people on the FBI terrorism watch list from legally purchasing guns. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has asked for a Senate vote on a similar measure this week without luck.
Pelosi used a procedural maneuver Thursday afternoon to push for a vote on the measure again, but it was blocked along party lines with no discussion.
Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) made a personal case for why the FBI list, or the “no-fly” list that is compiled from it, are not trusted ways to determine who should be able to get a gun. McClintock said as a California state senator, he was on the no-fly list.
“What the president proposes is that on the whim of a federal bureaucrat, Americans can be denied their 2nd Amendment rights as well, with no opportunity to confront their accuser, contest the evidence, or avail themselves of any of their other due process rights under the Constitution,” he said in a statement.
Thompson said the best way to handle such problems is to clean up the list. The legislation would allow people to petition to be removed and reclaim the right to purchase guns.
At the news conference, Thompson read off a series of statistics. The number of deaths. Moments of silence the House has held. Legislative days since the shooting that killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“The most significant number of all? Zero. The number of votes [on gun control] that we have had on the House floor since Sandy Hook,” Thompson said.
Thompson’s fellow Democrat has mounted a similar effort in the chamber.
San Diego Rep. Scott Peters this week has been reading aloud the name and age of every person who had died in a mass shooting since Sandy Hook, which occurred Dec. 14, 2012.
Peters said it is a way to cut through the noise and put a human face on the shootings. The one-minute speeches, which he began Wednesday, will occur periodically until the House acts, he said.
“This seemed like a really efficient and powerful way to do it,” he said. “It’s an important point to keep raising.”
Follow @sarahdwire on Twitter
Read more about the 55 members of California’s delegation at latimes.com/politics
Get our Essential Politics newsletter
The latest news, analysis and insights from our politics teams from Sacramento to D.C.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.