This Day in 1989 in CD-11
Seventeen years ago today…
…on a warm, sunny morning at 11:42 a.m. on January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy walked into the crowded schoolyard of Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California armed with his AK-47 semiautomatic rifle, and opened fire on the nearly 400 children who were playing outside for recess. Two minutes and over 100 rounds of ammunition later, five children lay murdered and twenty-nine other children and one teacher lay wounded.
In the wake of the Stockton Massacre, as it came to be known, public outcry over the proliferation of semiautomatic weapons in American society reached a crescendo. In that same year and as a direct result of the horrific events at Cleveland Elementary School, California became the first state to ban certain types of assault weapons. Subsequently, a handful of other states followed suit. But an all-encompassing federal assault weapons ban remained elusive. In 1992, Dianne Feinstein was elected to the Senate, and she immediately went to work to fulfill one of her campaign promises, championing a federal law that would stop sales of not only the most notorious of the semiautomatic weapons, such as AK-47s and Uzis, but their many imitators.
Americans may have correctly discerned that banning all guns is not an appropriate (or constitutional) solution. But every so often, an event or series of events – mob violence, assassination – jars the national consciousness and incites public demand for reasonable and measured gun control.
Stockton was just such an event. Its tolerance of rising crime already stretched to the limit and its anger and frustration with Congressional inability to make significant headway at a peak, the public simply could not understand why they had to tolerate these guns in their neighborhoods. Surely there was a line to be drawn somewhere, and while reasonable people could differ as to the proper place, most agreed that, wherever the line was, these guns had crossed it.
Finally, on September 13, 1994, five and a half years after the Stockton Massacre, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was signed into law by Bill Clinton as part of a far larger crime bill. Less than two months later, the Democratic Party was swept from power in the House. Although over 70% of Americans supported a ban of semiautomatic weapons, the NRA claimed that the vote was retribution for Democratic support of both the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban.
As the result of a compromise reached to ensure its passage, the ban enacted in 1994 had a ten-year sunset clause written into it. In 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban expired. When he ran for president in 2000, George W. Bush had promised the American public that he would sign an extension of the bill if it came to his desk. He never got the chance. The extension was killed in Congress.
Of course, it will come as no surprise to readers of Say No To Pombo that Congressman Richard Pombo voted against the Federal Assault Weapons Ban every time he was given the opportunity to do so.
Now, believe me, I understand that the issue of gun control is a difficult one, especially in the Central Valley; guns and hunting are an integral part of the lives of many, if not most, of its residents, cutting across a wide range of political beliefs. Democratic challengers to Richard Pombo need to understand that reality. But many of us additionally believe that we must distinguish between normal guns or rifles and assault weapons that are “designed for one purpose –- to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. No hunter or sportsman needs these features.”
So exactly where do the three Democratic candidates stand on this issue? Well, I’ve heard Jerry McNerney speak, and he says that he owns guns and supports gun ownership. I have heard through the grapevine that he supports a Federal Assault Weapons Ban, but as far as I am aware, he has not directly addressed the issue. I have heard Steve Filson speak, and he has said that he is a “proponent of gun safety,” without specifying what that might mean; his website offers no comment on gun safety. I have never heard Steve Thomas speak, and his website doesn’t delve into any aspect of gun control issues.
Obviously, I hope that all three of these candidates, if they intend to mount a serious challenge to Richard Pombo, will develop a clear, well-reasoned, and nuanced approach to the myriad issues surrounding gun ownership. I also hope that on this day, seventeen years after the terror on the Cleveland Elementary School playground, our Democratic candidates will honor the memory of the children who died and those who were injured by pledging to support a re-enactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.