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Richard Martinez: Turning Anguish Into Activism

The outspoken father of an Isla Vista shooting victim is demanding change

Richard Martinez (C) speaks about the loss of his son Christopher Michaels-Martinez, who was recently shot and killed during a shooting at the UC San Barbara, during a news conference on gun safety in Washington, DC.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
July 14, 2014 9:00 AM ET

Richard Martinez suffered through every parent's worst nightmare when his 20-year-old son, Christopher, was shot and killed when alleged gunman Elliot Rodger went on a shooting rampage at campus of UC Santa Barbara in the Isla Vista, California on May 23rd. Martinez, a lawyer, became a focal point for rage about the seemingly unending onslaught of school shootings when, in the days following the shooting, he publicly demanded to know "When will this insanity stop? When will enough people say, stop this madness, we don't have to live like this?" Since that moment, Martinez has been working to share his message about the needlessness of gun violence, and our capacity to help stop school shootings once and for all. Here, he tells us about his tragically necessary struggle.

I recognize a part of the level of my activity is motivated by desire to not focus too much on what's happened. But even if you told me right now that everything I do is not going to make a change, it wouldn’t stop me. I will continue to do this for as long as I have an opportunity. I lost the most important thing in my life and I ask myself "Why didn't I do anything earlier?" I had the opportunity to do something when the kids at Sandy Hook died. 20 kids died on that day and people say to me, "Well if they didn’t do anything then, why would you think they’re going to do anything now?" I refuse to accept that at some point in time people won't come to their senses and do the right thing. It's beyond my comprehension that Sandy Hook happened and there was no comprehensive legislative rule as a response. It's shameful, it's absolutely shameful that those kids died in that way and there's been no serious effort by congress to solve this problem. The fact that kids these days go through these lockdown drills at school is messed up. We shouldn’t accept that as normal. I refuse to accept the idea that "things will never be perfect." That doesn't mean we can’t make it better. 

America's Gun Violence Epidemic

How to make things better is what we're still trying to figure out. If it takes targeting voters in certain congressional districts, then we’ll do that. We’ll do whatever it takes to get this problem solved. We’ve got to figure it out. People who have been working on the issue longer than I have have ideas that I don't. I'll do whatever I can go. I’ll go campaign on their behalf if they need me. I'm going to Washington and New York to get involved and get educated. I have legislative experience so I know the way this thing goes: if you can’t get a comprehensive gun control package passed, then you try to do it piecemeal. But piecemeal in this kind of situation almost guarantees failure. We should be trying to hammer through a full-scale solution and  keep bringing it up until it passes — let's get it done right now because more kids are dying. Congress is capable of acting quickly and any further delay means more kids dying for no friggin' reason. I’m not saying any bill is going to solve the problem 100 percent, but it has to be better than the way things are now.

There are obviously a lot of factors involved: partly it's the kind of weapons that are available, partly it's a failure of the mental health system, partly it's the media. I mean, you look at these gun magazines and there’s this fetish attraction to assault weapons. In the Fifties and Sixties people had guns but there’s a different quality of weapon out there today and a change in the gun culture. There are all these people that say the way to solve the gun violence problem is to have more guns. You want to know about how that plays out? Ask a veteran that served in Iraq or Afghanistan how well that works. They’ve got open carry over there — do we want to be like Afghanistan and Iraq where everybody’s carrying around a weapon? More guns is not the answer. We’ve got enough.

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