OC Register: Tragedy shapes views in gun debate

me in oc register guns 1

Published: April 10, 2013 Updated: April 11, 2013 7:45 a.m.
Tragedy shapes views in gun debate

They were supposed to ride together through Santiago Canyon – two sisters who shared a love of the open road, the throaty roar of a Harley-Davidson and scintillating guitar licks by Slash.

But it never happened.

Deborah Hernandez of Laguna Hills founded Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Orange County Chapter, in February. “We already have an assault weapons ban in California. If that amendment passes with the federal law, Californians will lose nothing,” she says.
About 18 months ago, Laura Webb Elody was gunned down along with seven other victims at a salon in Seal Beach. The 46-year-old never had a chance – desperately pleading for her life as the shooter fired.
Beth Webb has since ridden the winding canyon roads solo – keeping to herself while she rode an emotional rollercoaster that turned, twisted, looped and sometimes even derailed amid the 51-year-old’s struggle through the pain of losing her sister, who she called her best friend.

But last week, she began taking small steps into the public eye. She recently joined the Orange County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She showed up at a memorial rally on April 4 that included a chance to ring a bell and honor her slain sister by proclaiming her name loudly to a crowd of about 350 in Irvine.

Then, on Wednesday, she saw a bipartisan deal cobbled together that, depending on the state, could strengthen background checks for commercial firearms sales, particularly at gun shows. She wanted to speak about it. But sometimes optimism doesn’t always come easy in the shadow of tragedy.

“I’m skeptical. I think this is probably the least we could’ve gotten done, but it’s something actually pretty huge,” Webb said. “If we have an idea of where the guns are coming from and who is supposed to have them and who isn’t supposed to have them and something can be done about that, then I fully support that.”

The shooting in Seal Beach – much like shootings in places where their names have become shorthand for massacres – forged Webb’s resolve to fight for tougher gun laws at the federal level.

Personal experience had the opposite effect on Patricia Wenskunas.

The 40-year-old founded Irvine-based Crime Survivors after a personal trainer entered her house, drugged her, put a towel over face, beat her and threatened to kill both her and her son. Wenskunas said she summoned all her strength to escape – eventually jumping from a 12-foot balcony and running to a neighbor’s to call police.

Six months later, she purchased a gun. And then she learned to use it.

Now she goes shooting “with the girls’ at local ranges regularly and can’t imagine not owning a gun.

“That topic shouldn’t be gun control. That seems to be the first thing others want to talk about – the gun,” she said. “The issue is a larger problem than just guns. I don’t think guns are the problem.”

Each woman, however, allows for a little patch of gray. Webb grew up with guns and said her husband owns guns. She said she believes in the right to bear arms – but it’s not an unfettered right. Wenskunas doesn’t think everyone has the right to own a gun but worried broader background checks might lead to larger attempts to take guns away.

That is Gordon Groomer’s fear.

For more than three decades, Groomer has been a licensed federal firearms dealer in Orange County. He said the agreement by senators – along with other gun regulation proposals – was “stupid” and missed the point.

“You are not addressing the real problem, which is law-abiding citizens are 99 percent of the people with guns,” Groomer said. “That’s who the hated bunch is that are labeled by the anti-gun people. They are law-abiding citizens who purchase their guns legally.”

The agreement gave plenty for both sides to embrace and gripe about. It would not require background checks for firearms transferred between family members, but it would require checks for gun show and online sales nationwide. Such checks are already mandatory in California under state law.

Groomer said, for example, current California law at a gun show requires a private seller who wants to sell a gun to another private buyer to surrender the gun to a licensed firearm dealer, who in turn, runs the background check and holds the gun for a 10-day waiting period before the transfer is complete.

Deborah Hernandez, who founded the Orange County chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said the move Wednesday was an important step toward trying to remove the patchwork laws on guns that vary from state-to-state. She said more liberal gun laws in states like Arizona and Nevada affect everyone.

“You can be involved in gun violence anywhere we go in this nation,” Hernandez said. “As long as we’re inside these United States, we should have consistent gun laws for basic public safety.”

She said she founded the Orange County chapter of the non-profit group not long after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School and finding herself engaged in long, protracted debates over the limits on gun rights. But the seed was planted after the shooting in Tucson, where former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot and wounded in 2011 by a gunman who killed six. Hernandez said she spent the next two years looking for a way to begin changing gun laws.

Hernandez formed the group in February. That’s when she heard from Webb.

Webb said she’s a “realist” who hopes the bipartisan deal signals a move toward more reforms.

“I think it could’ve gone farther,” she said.

Wenskunas also said she’s a realist and though she’s not inclined to support tougher gun restrictions, she said the solutions are part of “a broader umbrella.”

“I don’t know what enough is,” she said.