Richard Martinez speaks about the loss of his son Christopher Michaels-Martinez, who was shot and killed during a shooting at the UC San Barbara, June 17, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty

How one grieving parent is taking on the gun lobby

Updated

The last year has been unimaginably painful. 

A year ago last weekend, my son Christopher was killed in the Isla Vista shooting near the UCSB campus, where he was a sophomore. Chris was the kind of kid parents dream of — he was an amazing writer and had a smile that lit up the room. After he was killed, I said the only thing that made sense to me: “Not one more” family should ever have to endure the pain that comes from having a loved one killed by senseless gun violence. In the year that’s passed since Christopher’s death, I’ve taken that message on the road all across the country. I’ve visited small towns and big cities. I’ve spoken at house parties and rallies, schools, and state houses.

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I have chosen to make this my life’s work. In choosing to do so, I was aware that the path to changing laws and minds would be challenging. I was still surprised to see how entrenched the gun lobby is with certain state legislators and the dangerous degree to which it pushes bills that endanger public safety.

The formula they’ve long used to devastating effect is pretty simple: In exchange for a coveted NRA endorsement, weak legislators supported whatever outrageous legislation the gun lobby is backing at the time. This year, they are pushing to allow access to guns for domestic abusers. They’ve aggressively backed guns on campus bills. They’ve attempted to overturn any and all permitting standards for concealed carry holders, allowing people with no safety training or background check to carry hidden weapons in public.

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For years, they’ve been able to do all this because if legislators didn’t support such laws, gun extremist groups promised to activate the small but passionate portion of their membership base and defeat the official who dared to question the gun lobby’s position.

But I’ve also learned this year that when Americans stand up for common-sense gun laws, the gun lobby can, in fact, be beaten.

In Florida, I joined legislators, students, moms, and members of law enforcement to fight six separate guns in schools bills. The bills would have allowed guns into K-12 schools and forced guns onto college campuses. All six of the NRA-backed bills failed, proving that lawmakers are listening to gun safety advocates.

I’ve also worked to strengthen gun laws despite gun lobby opposition. In Washington state and Oregon, I worked alongside thousands of others to bring about laws that ensure all gun sales are subject to background checks, including those at gun shows and online. Right here in California, I teamed with other families to pass AB 1014, a law which allows law enforcement or immediate family members to present evidence to a judge and obtain a temporary gun violence restraining order (also known as a red flag law) if a person with guns poses a serious danger to themselves or others. 

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The legislative successes we’ve witnessed within the last year extend to places that the gun lobby once dominated. Guns-in-schools bills have been defeated in places like South Dakota and Wyoming. 

It wasn’t always this way.


In the past, such policies sometimes made their way through state legislatures with little or no opposition. Part of that stemmed from the power of the gun lobby, but I’ve grown convinced that those victories for the gun lobby were also a function of politicians simply not hearing from people like me and you.

That’s started to change and as a result, the gun lobby is increasingly on the defensive.

Now, family members whose loved ones have been killed and survivors are actively working to defeat gun lobby policies. In addition to working to pass and reform laws, we’re also trying to elevate gun violence prevention into the broader culture. On June 2, for instance, I’ll mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day by heading to Chicago to join other families whose kids have been killed by guns. In Chicago, I’ll be wearing orange. Hunters wear orange for gun safety.

In Chicago and all across the country, Americans will wear orange to declare that we as a nation are capable of coming together and working to create a country that is free of gun violence. It’s an idea that came about organically thanks to friends of Hadiya Pendleton, a promising student from Chicago, who was killed just weeks after performing in President Obama’s second inaugural parade.

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Taken as part of a broader, nationwide strategy to keep this issue in the national spotlight, such events serve to remind all Americans that gun violence takes a horrific toll in every community across the country.

I’ve seen great progress, but there is, of course, more work still to be done.

The last year has been the hardest of my life. I would give every day I have left on Earth to have just one more day with Christopher. I should be preparing for Chris’s graduation this year, not marking the one year remembrance of his death. By traveling around the country in the past year and speaking out to prevent future tragedies, I’ve realized that the only way I can honor Chris’is to continue to fight for laws and policies that might spare another father the heartache we’ve endured.

I hope you’ll join us. Not one more.

Richard Martinez is a Senior Outreach Associate at Everytown for Gun Safety

Gun Violence

How one grieving parent is taking on the gun lobby

Updated