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Burbank Activists Inspired New Gun Law

Burbank activists, outraged by the grand opening of a massive gun store last year and mourning the 2022 mass shooting at a school in Uvalde, Texas, were cited as the inspiration that led to a new “common-sense” gun law authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino and signed last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“It was kind of the perfect storm,” said activist and community leader Linda Bessin, who was a major supporter of Portantino as he lobbied for the passage of the new law, Senate Bill 368.

“We had massive gun sales in Burbank during the pandemic. There were lines out to the street feeding into gun stores. … And then we had Uvalde. People were frightened,” Bessin told the Leader.

Then, in the wake of the Uvalde shooting which killed 21 people, local firearms retailer Gun World opened the doors of a large new location on Magnolia Boulevard, just roughly 1,000 feet from Roosevelt Elementary School.

“People at that point were not only frightened, but concerned, panicked and questioning, ‘Why did we end up in this situation?’” Bessin said. “Why did the city allow all these gun stores within the last maybe five years?”

The relatively high number of firearm dealers in Burbank —14 — has attracted particular criticism, as the per capita figure is significantly higher than those of neighboring cities. Many of those Burbank stores are in close proximity to schools and places of worship.

Protesters flooded the streets — clad in orange, a color donned by gun control advocates — demanding that city leaders update Burbank’s zoning code to limit the number and location of gun dealerships citywide.

The Burbank City Council, in response to cries for local gun control, has since prepared to look into such restrictions, and has placed a moratorium on the issuance of new gun store permits.

The protests attracted a large group outside of Gun World. Portantino was in attendance and spoke at the demonstrations, which Bessin said sparked conversations right there on the street.

“Portantino was at our protest. … And we let him know that there was a raffle going on, for free gun accessories, and a gun that was also being raffled off,” Bessin said. “He was really appalled by that. I could tell it struck a nerve with him. I think for all of us that really was a moment of reckoning and a sense of wanting some responsibility to be taken.”

It was not long until SB 368 was introduced on the senate floor. Portantino’s office described the law as a “common-sense gun safety effort that would expand and strengthen firearm ownership prohibition laws and create additional responsibilities for commercial gun stores [which] was partly inspired by gun safety activists in Burbank during an anti-gun store opening protest.”

The law prohibits a licensed firearms dealer from offering an opportunity to win an item of inventory in a game dominated by chance.

SB 368 also requires a licensed firearms dealer to accept for storage a firearm transferred by an individual to prevent it from being used during periods of crisis, while adding restrictions for those who violate 10-year firearms prohibitions.

“I am grateful to neighbors in Burbank for speaking up and the governor for signing SB 368,” Portantino said in a statement. “Data tells us that households with firearms have a higher risk of suicide and accidental firearm injuries. Additionally, violating the 10-year prohibition makes a person incapable of safely owning a gun. An easier path to gun storage and thorough risk assessment will make California safer.”

When compared to households without firearms, households that have firearms face a higher risk of homicide, suicide and accidental firearm injury of a household member, according to Portantino’s office.

“Voluntary, temporary transfer of firearms for the duration of a crisis can save lives,” stated the senator’s office.

Prior to SB 368, licensed retailers and law enforcement agencies were not required to accept and store firearms during a mental health crisis, but the law now makes that compulsory.

“It is fitting that this month — suicide prevention awareness month — Gov. Newsom has signed SB 368 into law,” Margot Bennett, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, said in a statement. “So far this year alone there have been almost 18,000 suicides by firearms in the United States and the suicide rate continues to increase among young people and is at a 10-year high.”

There is still work to be done, said Bessin, adding that the biggest challenges lie in changing the city’s zoning to sensitive sites like schools and places of worship. Bessin acknowledged the work of local and state legislators in their efforts to introduce and pass gun control legislation.

“The Burbank community is relieved and grateful that Sen. Portantino and others in Sacramento took action to help us here in Burbank. With 14 gun stores in our city, the fact that they will not be handing out free gun accessories to entice more customers is a big relief for all of us,” said Bessin.

First published in the October 7 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

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