Student activists, lawmakers call for gun reform at Thousand Oaks forum – Ventura County Star
The temporary memorial honoring the 12 victims of last month’s shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks was moved by volunteers from a street corner to the establishment itself a short distance away. Wochit
Student activists, lawmakers and the mother of a Navy veteran killed in the mass shooting in Thousand Oaks spoke frankly about common sense gun legislation at a forum Sunday at Westlake High School.
Community members still reeling from a tragic act of violence that took place about 10 miles from the school were emotional and candid about their desire to take on gun lobbyists and the National Rifle Association to pass nationwide gun reform.
“This is about money, power and greed. Our families are collateral damage,” said Susan Orfanos, whose son Telemachus Orfanos was among the 12 people killed when Ian David Long entered the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks and opened fire Nov. 7.
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Westlake High student group United Nations Association led and organized the forum. The association’s president, Quinn Muscatel, 16, said the group advocates for human rights issues and gun violence is among those topics.
Muscatel is part of a larger network of student activists galvanized in the wake of the fatal shooting of 17 students and staff members in February 2018 in Parkland, Florida. She co-founded the student gun violence activism group Never Again SoCal, which has organized protests at local schools.
“I think it’s really important to get students involved, especially because young people are the future,” Muscatel said.
While Ventura County lawmakers, supervisors and the sheriff attended Sunday’s forum, the perspective of the students growing up in a time of active-shooter drills was also at the forefront. Student artists and poets shared their work as others talked about the relief they feel when the active-shooter alarm turns out to be just a drill.
Simi Valley teen Gracie Pekrul, part of March For Our Lives Ventura County, created artwork of the faces of those killed in the Parkland shooting in an effort to ensure their stories would never be forgotten. She said the artwork was put on as an exhibit under the theme “Still At War” at the Ventura County Government Center in October.
Pekrul, who is homeschooled, said she was outraged when the next day a gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue and the Borderline massacre happened not two weeks later.
The county officials and legislators in attendance Sunday were in awe that such an impassioned group of youths were at the heart of the event.
They also lauded the bravery of Susan and Marc Orfanos for being outspoken on an issue that still has them on a rollercoaster of grief. Marc Orfanos sat next to his wife and held her hand as she stood at the podium to speak about her son’s life and the need for gun reform.
Susan Orfanos received a standing ovation when she finished her speech. She told of yelling recently in the parking lot of a Trader Joe’s store when she saw a vehicle with a pro-life, pro-gun NRA sticker.
“I had to literally talk myself down. Out loud,” she said.
State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Agoura Hills, spoke next, forgoing his prepared remarks to apologize to the Orfanos family for being unwillingly chosen to take on gun reform.
“That anger is real, and this mourning is not just a passive tragic emotion where you hide, but it’s unleashed,” Stern said. “And I hope that you never mute yourself and that you never let that go. And I’m sorry you were chosen for this moment but you were.”
Assembly member Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, who sat alongside Ventura County Sheriff Bill Ayub, spoke about a package of gun reform bills she rolled out last week. Irwin said she spoke with law enforcement officials about what was needed to fill the gaps in California law to prevent those who shouldn’t have guns from getting them.
Congresswoman Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, spoke about proposed national legislation about universal background checks that was introduced in January. She said that given the current political climate passing “common sense gun reform” was going to be an uphill battle.
Ventura County Supervisors Linda Parks and Steve Bennett discussed what can be donel to ensure that the county is doing its part in the effort.
Bennett said advocating for the end of gun shows at the Ventura County Fairgrounds is part of that. He said there needs to be a shift so lawmakers on the state and federal level aren’t afraid of the gun lobby.
“They need to be afraid of what we’re going to do if they don’t do the right thing,” Bennett said.
Jasen Cummings, a 17-year-old Westlake High student, said advocating to end those shows in Ventura County is one of the goals of the local youth activists.
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