Gun forum draws hundreds

Susan Orfanos, 58, stands at the wooden podium in the Carpenter Family Theatre at Westlake High School Feb. 3 dressed in a red and black checkered flannel, blue jeans and brown cowboy boots. The microphone picks up a shaky but audible voice that travels throughout the 344-seat building where nearly 200 people have gathered to listen to a student-led forum on gun violence.

In loving memory: Artwork of the 12 victims from the Nov. 7 mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill is displayed at the front of the Carpenter Family Theatre at Westlake High School Feb. 3.
In loving memory: Artwork of the 12 victims from the Nov. 7 mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill is displayed at the front of the Carpenter Family Theatre at Westlake High School Feb. 3.

“This week is gun violence survivors week. I’m having a difficult time wrapping my head around that,” Orfanos said during the forum. “As a family, we didn’t survive the shooting. We live with its results every minute of every day.”

Orfanos’ son, Telemachus ‘Tel’ Orfanos, 27, was one of the 12 victims of the Nov. 7 mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks.

Student activists from groups such as the United Nations Association and Never Again SoCal coordinated and led the event where local policymakers and community members gathered on a rainy Sunday afternoon to discuss ‘common sense gun legislation.’

NeverAgain SoCal was organized in the wake of the February 2018 fatal shooting of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The organization was co-founded and is currently led by Quinn Muscatel, 16.

According to the organization website, NeverAgain SoCal works with local and national representatives to prevent gun violence-related tragedies by passing legislation at a local and national level.

“I am here with you today along with elected officials, leaders of organizations in different groups. I am not a gun expert, I am not a legal or constitutional expert,” Orfanos said. “I am a 58-year-old woman, married with two sons who, in her rage, cried for an hour when I learned my son was not coming home.”

Student artists displayed artwork created in response to mass shootings like Parkland and Borderline, and shared accounts of what it is like to be in a lockdown drill during regular school hours.

At the forefront of the forum were the remarks local policymakers like Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-44th Assembly District) and Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-26th Congressional District) about proposed local gun reform bills and national legislation, respectively.

Irwin said three new bills are in collaboration with local authorities like the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. Ventura County Sheriff William ‘Bill’ Ayub was in attendance, as well, and confirmed that the legislation is an effort to “close the loopholes” in the system.

“I am not here to express an opinion one way or another on gun possession or ownership. But I am here to tell you that we need more tools to keep guns out of the hands of those that shouldn’t have them, those that have criminal intentions, [and] those that have mental instabilities and so forth,” Ayub said.

The first bill Irwin introduced is called AB-339, which requires that “every department in California, whether it is the police or sheriff’s department, develop policy by using Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs),” Irwin said. She said State Senator Henry Stern (D-27th Senate District) will also “help get through the senate.”

AB-339 would require police departments to educate officers about GVROs and allow the public to file restraining orders against members of the community that own weapons who may pose a risk to themselves or to others. The bill would allow authorities to temporarily remove the weapon from the person in question.

The second bill Irwin introduced is AB-12, which Irwin said was named after the 12 victims of the Borderline shooting. The bill would allow authorities to simultaneously obtain a search warrant and a GVRO against an individual reported to be a risk to the community.

Additionally, it would extend the lifespan of a GVRO from one to five years and mandate that the individual in question immediately surrender all firearms and ammunition to the officer or officers.

The third proposal is a grant initiative that would allow authorities from three counties, including Ventura County, to take control of the state’s ‘prohibited possessor list.’

Irwin said the list currently has over ten thousand names of people who have been “classified as felons, those addicted to narcotics, repeat misdemeanor offenders or those with mental illnesses.” 

Irwin said the list is currently controlled by the state’s attorney general and the grant would put the list into the hands of local authorities to “start removing the backlog of people” that are on the list by doing check-ins.

“After the tragedy that we went through, I had some very long discussions with law enforcement about specific areas that we could look at to try and make a difference here in California,” Irwin said. “Discussions about…Potential holes in California’s regulations and [we’re] looking at ways of addressing those.”

Brownley discussed a bipartisan bill she co-authored and proposed in early January that would mandate universal background checks for gun possession. Brownley said the bill is called HR-8, and is named after the anniversary of the 2011 shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona that left six dead and 13 injured.

“Today, almost three months later, we are Thousand Oaks strong. But we are also still breathing and hurting and trying to figure out the way forward,” Brownley said. “So it makes zero sense for Congress, who should be representing the will of the people, would not advance legislation to address [common sense gun control].”

Ventura County Supervisors Linda Parks and Steve Bennett then addressed the role Ventura County plays in ensuring gun reform starts at the local level, beginning with advocating for the end of gun shows at the fairgrounds.

Olivia Schouten
News Editor