In a solemn but sparsely attended political rally–cum–press conference–cum memorial remembrance held in Isla Vista on Friday, Democratic congressional candidate Salud Carbajal took his Republican opponent, Justin Fareed, to task for accepting a $2,500 donation from the National Rifle Association. Carbajal said he was “appalled” his opponent would accept a donation from the NRA in light of Elliot Rodger’s mass shooting there in 2014, in which he killed three and wounded three others; Rodgers also stabbed three to death in his killing rampage.
Joining Carbajal — and about 12 activists and UCSB students — was Richard Martinez, whose son Christopher Michaels-Martinez was killed in Rodger’s slaying, as well as Pastor Frank Schaefer of Isla Vista’s Methodist church. All three denounced the NRA leadership for opposing all efforts to enact new gun safety measures, plug loopholes in the universal-background-check process, limit sales of ammunition, or fund new studies of gun violence from a public-health perspective. Carbajal also blasted Congress for responding to mass killings with one moment of silence after the next. “No moment of silence ever brought anyone back,” he said. Martinez, who has emerged as a national spokesperson for stricter gun safety measures in the wake of his son’s murder, said he was throwing his support behind Carbajal. So, too, did Pastor Schaefer. “He’s had our back,” Schaefer said. “I have his.”
Carbajal recounted how an older sister committed suicide with a handgun when he was in the fifth grade and being the first in the family to come upon her body. He recalled shooting automatic rifles while in training in the Marine Corps. “I know what violence these weapons can do,” he said. Even though automatic weapons are banned in the United States, Carbajal argued that semi-automatic rifles can easily be converted to automatics. That and the easy availability of ammo clips holding more than 10 rounds, he said, renders them almost just as lethal as automatic weapons. “How many times can I pull the trigger? That’s how many shots I can fire off,” said Carbajal. “How many people can I shoot in the time I can count ‘1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10?’ That’s why we need to restrict sale of ammo clips.”
Isla Vista Murders
The Isla Vista shooter, Rodger, was armed the night of the killing with three handguns and more than 600 rounds of ammunition. Although he had a long history of mental illness, the guns were legally registered and the ammunition legally purchased. Martinez, who, like Carbajal, showed up wearing a light-blue button-down shirt and dark blue pants, acknowledged background checks would not stop all gun violence, but he argued it would make a significant difference. “People still die in car crashes even though we have seat belt laws,” he said. “But the laws save a lot of lives.”
In the Rodger case, Sheriffs’ deputies case conducted a health-and-welfare check on him shortly before the shootings in response to his mother’s expressed concern about his psychological stability. Deputies executing the check were not aware at the time, however, that Rodger had three handguns registered in his name; they made no inquiry about them. He presented well, and they left without incident. State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has since pushed legislation that would require law enforcement officers to check gun registration records when implementing such welfare checks.
During Friday’s event, Martinez made a point to display his left forearm — about half of which was enswathed by brightly colored plastic wristbands — “three to four deep” he said — each one bearing the name of someone killed in a mass shooting. He pointed out the one he wore for his son, another for a 9-year old girl killed in Tucson by Jared Lee Loughner in 2011.
Newtown Not Enough?
Martinez excoriated the Republican-led Congress for not standing up to the NRA in the wake of the Newtown shootings in Connecticut in which 20 preschoolers were shot — none of whom, he noted, had fewer than three slugs in their bodies — or the more recent massacre in Orlando where 49 people were killed and 53 wounded. “What has Congress done?” he demanded. Answering his own question, he cited the multiple inquests held about Benghazi and Hillary Clinton’s ongoing email irregularities. Martinez said he reached out to Carbajal several months ago because Carbajal’s opponent, Republican Justin Fareed, had endorsed Donald Trump. Trump, noted Martinez, has argued that with a well-armed citizenry, individuals are better able to defend themselves if and when a mass shooting takes place. “If that was true, America would be the safest place on the planet,” Martinez said.
Martinez acknowledged he hadn’t spoken with Fareed about his feelings on gun safety. “He took a check from the NRA,” he said. “I didn’t need to.” Martinez worked energetically on behalf of Congressmember Lois Capps in her most recent campaign, two years ago, helping with the get-out-the-vote effort in what proved to be her narrowest victory in years. Capps has thrown everything she has behind Carbajal’s election and has highlighted his support for more restrictive gun safety measures in op-eds she has written on his behalf.
Fareed has shied away from speaking in much detail on the subject, but at a recent debate , he argued that that existing gun laws need to be better enforced and against the passage of new restrictions. Fareed has been quick to stress his support for the Second Amendment, and when asked about mass shootings, he has stressed the importance of better mental-health treatment. When Democrats pushed for a measure to deny gun sales to anyone on the FBI’s no-fly list because of suspected terrorist associations, Fareed agreed with the Republican majority, which argued that such a restriction might unfairly impinge upon the civil liberties of individuals wrongly on the list.
In a prepared press statement, Fareed accused Carbajal of making political hay out of “a heart-breaking tragedy.” Speaking of the Isla Vista shooting, Fareed stated, “Unfortunately, my opponent has chosen to politicize the terrible tragedy that occurred here in 2014 by staging a rally to prop up his failing campaign. Actions like these are made by self-interested career politicians as a desperate attempt to save their jobs.”
Fareed did state he supported “sensible gun laws that keep guns out of the hands of individuals who shouldn’t have them.” But when pressed for any examples of such laws — or any proposals in which he differed with the NRA leadership — his campaign remained silent. Carbajal by contrast would be equally hard pressed to cite a gun-safety proposal that he doesn’t support. “There’s a real difference here,” he said. “Voters have a clear choice.”