First published in the June 11 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
Michelle Webster waited until she was in her car to put on the orange shirt.
It is the color hunters sometimes wear to prevent being mistaken for a target. It has become a signature color for those seeking to raise awareness of — and prevent — gun deaths and injuries. Indeed, emblazoned across Webster’s shirt were the words: “End Gun Violence.”
The shirt would not have attracted particular notice in front of Burbank City Hall on Tuesday. There, dozens of community members urged local and federal officials to restrict gun sales and dealerships after a string of devastating mass shootings, including one in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 people dead, 19 of them elementary school children.
Webster, like many parents who attended the rally, was there out of concern for her children’s safety. But it was also because of her daughter that she waited to don the bright orange shirt until she was in her car.
Webster was worried, she explained at the subsequent City Council meeting as her voice shook with emotion, that her daughter — who attends a Burbank elementary school — would read the shirt. She was worried her child would learn that, despite Webster’s assurance that something like the massacre in Uvalde would never happen in Burbank, Webster actually feels terrified that it will.
“Every day, I dropped her off at school … I gave her the biggest hug I could, and I told her that I loved her so much and that I would pick her up,” Webster said. “And every day, secretly, I wondered inside if I would pick her up alive.”
Webster and many other residents pleaded with the City Council to limit the number of gun stores in Burbank, many of which are located near schools and residential neighborhoods. The council instructed city staff members in February to research options to do so, with staff saying Burbank has 14 firearms dealerships in a city of about 105,000 people.
That count places Burbank’s number of gun dealerships per capita, and its number of gun stores per square mile, far higher than that of the neighboring cities of Glendale, Los Angeles and Pasadena.
The package of potential regulations coming to the City Council will include a moratorium on new gun stores, buffer zones and a cap on the number of dealerships. But, City Attorney Joe McDougall cautioned on Tuesday, the agenda item might not be scheduled until Aug. 9 at the latest, with city staff members still collecting crime and gun sale data.
“That’s when school starts!” a meeting attendee shouted in response to the announcement, referencing the Burbank Unified School District’s fall start date of Aug. 15.
COUNCIL MEMBERS RESPOND TO PLEAS
Vice Mayor Konstantine Anthony, who first raised the idea of restricting the numbers of gun stores in Burbank, later asked city staff members to try to bring the item to council earlier, citing the beginning of the academic year. City Manager Justin Hess said his team could try to do so, but that it would push back other priority items.
“It comes down to action,” Anthony said. “It comes down to how we vote, how we spend our dollars, what we do. So, when that comes to the table, that’s how we actually make people safe — not just feel safe, but actually be safe.”
While some research suggests that a higher gun ownership rate is associated with a higher homicide rate, fewer studies are available regarding possible connections between gun dealerships and violent crimes. One 2009 research article published in BMC Public Health found that gun homicide rates were higher in some major cities where more licensed dealers were present, but that the opposite effect was detected in other cities and suburbs.
Research supported by the federal National Institute of Justice also found that 77% of people who committed mass shootings between 1966 and 2019 purchased at least some of their guns legally. More than 80% of K-12 school shootings, the institute added, involved guns that were stolen from family members.
McDougall warned in February that any action Burbank takes to restrict gun stores would need to address a specific issue, such as purchased weapons being used in crimes, to avoid potential lawsuits from gun-rights groups.
Councilwoman Sharon Springer said she wanted to reduce the number of gun stores in Burbank, noting that she marched with the community against gun violence after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
“There’s a disconnect in my and our community’s values and what we have, and we’re addressing it,” she added. “Somehow we’re moving in the wrong direction, but I promise that I’m committed to doing and support everything we can do.”
PARENTS RALLY AGAINST GUN DEALERSHIPS
Several people who addressed the council or rallied in front of City Hall said they are parents of children who attend Burbank schools and want to see limits on gun dealerships. Michelle Sugg, whose children attend Jefferson Elementary, said she also wants larger-scale changes such as stronger background and reference checks for those trying to purchase a firearm.
“I’m not trying to take people’s rights away to protect themselves, but I think we’ve got to do a better job,” Sugg said. She added that her children, whom she brought to the rally, have had to take active shooter drills. “My son is 6 and he wants to know why he has to do that.”
Some who attended the rally also said they felt frustrated by the announcement that Gun World, a Magnolia Park gun store, will soon open a larger location a few blocks away. The business, which has operated for decades, markets itself as having “the largest in-stock inventory in Southern California.”
“We are part of the Burbank community,” Gun World said in a statement. “We are your neighbors, business owners, veterans, spouses, parents and coaches. We have deep roots in Burbank and care greatly about the safety of our staff and our city.”
On Facebook, the business also reaffirmed its support of gun rights, saying in May that “those who wish to commit criminal acts will always find [a way] around these ridiculous gun laws. … Call and let your representatives know that you do not want [to] be a victim and that your right to bear arms shall not be infringed!”
Council members did not make any decisions regarding gun stores on Tuesday. A Facebook group titled Stop Gun Retailers in Burbank created less than three weeks ago gathered more than 600 members. Several pledged to keep pressuring the Council to move the discussion on potential restrictions to an earlier date.
The concerned community members who attended council chambers on Tuesday departed partway through the meeting as it drifted into the late-night hours. Webster, who had tearfully explained her concerns for her two children, said she didn’t want her youngsters to learn how worried she was.
When she got back to her car, she added, she was going to change into a different shirt.