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County supervisors back Simitian's resolution to ban assault weapons

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Aug. 13 unanimously approved a resolution proposed by supervisors Joe Simitian and Susan Ellenberg asking Congress to pass a federal ban on assault weapons.

Simitian, who represents District 5, which includes Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View, said the following day he was “pleased” his colleagues agreed that the ban was a step worth taking in the wake of the July 28 Gilroy Garlic Festival mass shooting.

Along with their resolution, Simitian and Ellenberg explained their reasoning in calling for the ban on weapons used in Gilroy and other recent shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, which occurred within a matter of days.

Too close to home

According to a report released by the Gilroy Police Department days after the massacre and tweets from the agency’s official social media account, 19-year-old Gilroy resident Santino Legan likely cut through a fence around the perimeter of Christmas Park, the site of the festival, before opening fire at approximately 5:41 p.m. that Sunday evening with an “AK47-variant” rifle.

Legan killed three people, all under age 30: 6-year-old Stephen Romero and 13-year-old Keyla Salazar, both of San Jose, and 25-year-old Santa Cruz resident Trevor Irby. A coroner’s report revealed that gunshot wounds caused their deaths.

When police patrolling the festival confronted Legan approximately a minute into the shooting, he turned his gun on himself. In addition to the deaths, 13 people were injured and treated at local hospitals.

“This case is very clearly the result of what appears to be an entirely legal purchase in a state that does not have the kind of rigorous gun safety laws we have here in California,” Simitian said in a phone call with the Town Crier, referring to reports that Legan legally purchased his rifle in Nevada. “There are probably 40-plus states across the country where that’s legal. We are right next door to Arizona, Nevada and Oregon. We are vulnerable to those kinds of purchases, and the impact they have, did have, in Gilroy.”

All hands on deck

Included in the supervisors’ resolution is an addendum that serves as a call to action to the 15 cities in Santa Clara County; staff will share the document and ask jurisdictions to adopt a similar position so that the stance rings loud enough to urge federal elected representatives to pass legislation addressing this “ongoing crisis in American life.” As of last week, 255 mass shootings were reported in the U.S. in 2019 alone. Mass shootings are defined by a Stanford University project dedicated to studying the phenomenon as when three or more individuals are shot (not necessarily killed), not including the shooter.

“I also think it’s clear having watched the national scene that it’s too easy for these issues to get lost in the larger debate, which is why I chose to focus on this specific thing,” Simitian said at the board meeting. “I also think it’s clear from watching the national debate that Congress isn’t going to act unless they are pushed to act. So we need to push with whatever impact one voice can have.”

Simitian and Ellenberg said they realize the resolution is not the definitive solution to gun violence in the U.S. Ellenberg communicated this sentiment when the item was up for discussion.

“This doesn’t absolve us from doing more work and continuing to work locally, but I think that it’s a statement we should be making powerfully and loudly,” she said.

During the board meeting, Simitian listed a handful of reasons why a federal ban was a solid first step: a ban is possible because it has been done in the past (and recently at that); “years” of research show that banning this type of gun can make a difference; and a recent poll revealed strong bipartisan support for such a measure on a national level.

“I do think it is incumbent on us to simply ask ourselves from time to time, ‘Is there something that clearly makes sense and that can and should be done?’” Simitian said. “In this instance, I thought the answer was ‘yes.’”

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