Wrapped around Richard Martinez’s right wrist are more than a dozen brightly colored memorial bands, each one symbolizing someone affected by gun violence.
Martinez, a gun safety advocate who spoke to Central Coast community members and students at Cal Poly on Thursday night, has received these bracelets from all over the county.
One from the Orlando night club shooting that left 49 people dead in 2016; another from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012; another from the Aurora movie theater shooting that same year.
The list goes on.
“We think of this as a national issue,” said Sebastian Hamirani, president of the Cal Poly Democrats, the group that organized Martinez’s on-campus speech. “But it’s happened here on the Central Coast.”
Martinez has been speaking publicly about gun safety since 2014, the year his son was shot and killed by a mentally ill 22-year-old outside an Isla Vista deli near the UC Santa Barbara campus.
Christopher Michaels-Martinez, 20, lived in Los Osos and graduated from San Luis Obispo High School before attending UC Santa Barbara. He was one of six UCSB students killed in the spree that injured 14 others.
“I miss him every day — he was our only child,” Martinez said. “I can say that being his father gave me more joy than anything I’ve ever done in my life and I was so proud of him. And now he’s dead.”
Martinez, formerly a defense attorney in Santa Maria, has since become a spokesman for a growing number of Americans demanding stronger gun control measures.
He travels the country working with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit formed to advocate for sensible gun regulations.
Today, just weeks removed from the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history in Las Vegas, Martinez says the gun lobby presents three hollow arguments.
“The first argument that you hear is that there’s no problem. The second argument that you hear is there’s no solution. Nothing works and nothing can stop it,” Martinez said. “The third argument that you hear is, well, there’s a problem, and the only solution is more guns.”
During his speech, Martinez highlighted “common-sense solutions” that have helped make life in the United States safer since he was growing up in the 1960s. Food is healthier, cars are safer and people are more environmentally conscious, Martinez said.
He also spoke passionately about the need for increased background checks for those interested in purchasing a gun, as well as the red flag legislation in California that “allows immediate family members or law enforcement to go in front of the judge and ask the judge to remove all guns and prohibit the person from buying ammunition.”
“When we hear these stories, when we see it happening over and over again on a daily basis, it’s hard because you know what those families are going through. You went through it,” Martinez said. “For me, I can’t accept the way that Chris died.
“We’re Americans. It’s the 21st century. It shouldn’t be like this.”