Crime

4 years after his son was killed, SLO County father cheers teens’ demand for action on guns

Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, who was killed in the violent rampage near UCSB in May, looks out across the water at Port San Luis, a place he and his son loved to visit together.
Richard Martinez, father of Christopher Michaels-Martinez, who was killed in the violent rampage near UCSB in May, looks out across the water at Port San Luis, a place he and his son loved to visit together. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The father of a San Luis Obispo High School graduate killed in the 2014 Isla Vista shooting said he’s inspired by the national response — particularly from students — to the mass shooting at a Florida high school that killed 17 people.

“I’d say we’ve made more than just a little bit of progress,” Richard Martinez said Friday. “Momentum is building.”

Martinez’s 20-year-old son, Christopher Michaels-Martinez of Los Osos, was one of six students murdered in a stabbing and shooting spree before the killer fatally shot himself.

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Christopher Michaels-Martinez, in his 2012 SLO High yearbook photo

A grief-stricken Martinez, then a defense attorney in Santa Maria, grabbed the nation’s attention with a televised outcry against “craven, irresponsible politicians and the (National Rifle Association)” as well as his plea for “Not One More,” which became a slogan for demanding gun control.

He’s has spent the four years since Christopher’s death traveling the country as a spokesman for Everytown For Gun Safety, one of the country’s leading gun control advocacy groups.

Despite disappointing losses and proposed legislation that would put more guns on the street, Martinez and Everytown have advocated for several successful developments.

He pointed to the election of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a gun control advocate, over NRA-backed candidate Ed Gillespie in November. In Nevada, where gun control measures are rarely popular, voters decided to instate universal background checks for gun buyers, though enforcement of that measure has stalled at the state level.

Martinez stopped in San Luis Obispo to speak at Cal Poly in October and was most recently interviewed about the Florida shooting and the efforts of Everytown last week by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin.

As every major mass shooting does, the Florida murders renewed the national debate about restricting the types of military grade assault rifles and other tactical weapons such as high-capacity magazines and, since the Las Vegas massacre, bump stocks that essentially turn rifles into illegal automatic weapons.

He said he’s been inspired by students across the nation who have publicly demanded a federal ban on the AR-15 and other assault rifles. He called Emma Gonzalez, the 18-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior who delivered a rousing speech at an anti-gun rally Feb. 17 and sparred with an NRA spokeswoman at a CNN debate Wednesday, “phenomenal.”

This time, those most at-risk are leading the discussion, Martinez said.

“People forget that those kids know more about gun violence than anyone. … They’ve grown up with lockdown drills, and they know why,” he said. “They know that other little kids have been shot and killed at school.”

Recent counterarguments or alternatives to gun control measures — including the voluntary arming of teachers — ring hollow and serve only the interests of gun manufacturers and the NRA, he said.

“The reason this is being put forward as a solution is because it means more guns,” he said. “They are effectively saying that we, as Americans in the 21st century, can’t come up with anything better than ‘more guns.’”

What can be done, he said, is passing so-called “red flag” laws in the 45 states without them, which offer a legal avenue to temporarily confiscate and prohibit the possession of any firearm by someone deemed a violent threat by a judge. Such a law might have saved his own son and likely would have prevented the Florida shooting, he said.

“Prayers and condolences are important,” he said. “But to watch these (shootings) happen and not do anything about it, that’s shameful.”

Matt Fountain: 805-781-7909, @MattFountain1

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