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The Changing Face Of San Diego's Gun Culture

SD Gun Culture
The Changing Face Of San Diego's Gun Culture
GUESTS: Robert Spencer: heads the Oceanside chapter of Organizing for Action John Rippo: former arms dealer and gunnery instructor

CAVANAUGH: Our first story on Midday Edition, a group of activists rallied at Congressman Darryl Issa's Vista office yesterday hoping to get the staunch Republican gun rights advocate to change his stance on gun reform legislation. The new gun control bill which would enhance background checks will be voted on in the Senate just about an hour from now. Nervous legislators say it may never even make its way to a vote by Issa or any other congressmen because supporters are bracing for a defeat in the Senate. Today we'll talk about yesterday's rally and the larger issue of the changing nature of gun sales in San Diego. My guests, Robert Spencer heads the Oceanside chapter of organizing for action, the group that rallied at the Congressman's office. Welcome to the program. SPENCER: Thank you, Maureen. It's nice to be here. CAVANAUGH: And John Rippo is a former gun dealer in Oceanside. Thanks for coming in. RIPPO: My pleasure, Maureen. CAVANAUGH: We invited Congressman Issa to join us or provide a statement, but his office did not reply to our cans. Robert, before we find out about last night's rally, what is the goal of the group organizing for action? It started out I think as a group working to reelect President Obama, right? SPENCER: Yes. In fact it was -- it started out to elect him the first time. And it has morphed a bit. The name was "organizing for America" while we were trying to elect and successfully reelect the president. Now we have decided that it's not enough to elect the president. We have to make sure that his most important domestic agendas are achieved. And we feel that through grassroots efforts, we can help in those endeavors. CAVANAUGH: And right now, you're focused on his gun reform bills. SPENCER: Yes. Majority of focus, we are also looking at the comprehensive immigration issue as well. CAVANAUGH: Now, how many volunteers would you estimate your group has in North County? SPENCER: In North County, we have, that worked through the campaign, approximately 5,000 volunteers. CAVANAUGH: And how many showed up for the rally last night? SPENCER: It was approximately 150. We didn't do a head count. And also all of the national events are conflicting, but we were very pleased with not only the members' count, but the enthusiasm and the heartfelt activism on this issue. CAVANAUGH: Now, as I said, you went to Congressman Darryl Issa a Vista office. He is rated A, ranked A by the NRA. He is a staunch gun rights supporter. What message did you want to bring to Congressman Issa? SPENCER: We had a list of five criteria or a message that we wanted to get across to the Congressman. And I would love to elaborate them on them. I will mention that we had scheduled this event about a month and a half prior. So it was relatively good timing. CAVANAUGH: So what kind of response did you get? SPENCER: Very cordial in the reception. Two of the three of his staff members were in the meeting led by his field rep, Ryan Peters. And Ryan is issue-oriented on crime and guns and spoke with some knowledge on it. CAVANAUGH: Now, was this a rally in anticipation of the expanded background check bill before the Senate today actually passing the Senate and getting to the house of representatives? SPENCER: It was coincidental. We knew that we were going to have legislative activity. When we scheduled the meeting, we did not know at what point the process would be. And just to throw a little caution, is this a very fluid situation. We are not conceding losing this voted yet. There is movement all over the place in the Senate. And even if it is defeated today, we are not going to away. CAVANAUGH: Let me get to that. But let me also wrap up the rally. Now, the outcome of the rally is you met with staffers of Darryl Issa. What is his stance on background checks? Is there any flexibility there? SPENCER: I believe there is, but talk is cheap he want responded that he is in favor of background checks, generically. We want him to take it a step forward in what the law is now and to include gun shows and online sales. California as you may know has very strict laws. But adjacent states like Arizona, Nevada, not so much. We had a very positive response from his staff member. But the proof is in the pudding. We would love an actual response from the Congressman. That was basically our take. Supportive, but maybe -- negotiate but verify. CAVANAUGH: All right. Let me go to John. John, you've worked in the past for 17 years in a gun shop, owned by your dad. You started working at the store at the age of 13, seeing people come in over the years. What's your take on expanding background checks to gun shows and online purchases? Do you think it would be effective? RIPPO: I think it would be effective if it were more uniform. And what I would like to see is a uniform background system check so that people who buy a gun in one state, who may be deprived of ownership in one state would have that data available in all 50 states when it is necessary. The reason I'm for that is because there are too many cracks. And people fall through those cracks who shouldn't be allowed to have guns. And when I say that, I think in particular of some of the people that I saw involved in domestic disputes who had restraining orders in one state bought firearms in others or other places, and nobody knew about that. CAVANAUGH: Now, would you say, considering your long time dealing with weapons and selling guns here in San Diego, has the gun culture in San Diego changed, specifically when it comes to gun show purchases? RIPPO: I'll address gun shows in just a second, but yes, in the macro few, yes, it's changed a great deal. When I was a young boy, my father had a significant collection of antiques and other collectibles. The People who dealt in those were people who collected lots of other thing, like car collectors or watch collectors. It was very genteel, upper middle class type of thing. People brought their wives to the shows. That is flat-out gone. And that has been replaced over the past 25, 30 years by a sea change of people who are much more animated and motivated by visuals in the entertainment media and stimulated to buy what I used to call black steel and plastic. Military style weapons. And they have been bitten by the kind of fetish that guns tent to bring out in people. And that bite is very hard. And that culture has gone from a night and day sea change to something that is really kind of unrecognizable. CAVANAUGH: Many legislators when they're looking at this expanded background check bill, they say it goes too far. That's why they won't be voting for it. Do you think that that kind of checking, this specific legislation is too restrictive? RIPPO: It could be. However, something needs to be done to put more people on the same kind of page. I really don't know the actual details of what this comprehensive background check may or may not have within the bill. But I do know that if it is uniform through all 50 states, it will tend to solve a lot of the kinds of problems which are not being solved now. And because of those problems that are not being solved now, you get people who get killed. CAVANAUGH: Robert, let me ask you, do you believe that there may be other reasons besides just the -- actually what's in this expanded background check bill that explains why so many legislators will not vote for it? Considering how much of the American public in polling says they are behind expanding background checks? SPENCER: Complicated answer. Simply, yes, there are a lot of other factors. But I just don't understand how Congress can be so far behind the American public. Certainly the rules of the political game in the past have been let's get a great score card from the NRA. But there has been a change. We've gotten many, many more groups that are putting volunteers, press, money in the case of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. And I'm not so sure that the legislators are voting completely with their conscience or voting for their political lives. But that's going to be tested in the next election cycle. CAVANAUGH: Now, if background checks, I know you're not conceding anything, but if it does not go your way, so to speak in the Senate today, what's the next move for activists? SPENCER: Well, this is not going to go away at all. It will resurface in some form. We have a champion in our Senator, Diane Feinstein, and she's not going to let this drop. The parents of the victims are not going to let this drop. Moms demand action, and definitely OFA will not be going away. This will resurface again and again, as long as we have 90% of the American public behind us. Eventually, we will get 60 senators. CAVANAUGH: Let me ask you both this. I'm interested in how this relates to what you were saying before. There are a number of gun control bills that are being introduced in the state legislature, the California legislature, and I'm wondering, since your emphasis so much is on the disparity between the gun control laws in one state and another and the cracks that can come about that way, are you a supporter of tighter gun restrictions in one state, for instance here in California? RIPPO: That's kind of a rough question, Maureen. But I'll answer it this way. California has actually some better approaches to gun registration and systemization than a lot of the other states do. What we used to see in California in the past was a complete divorcement from who was actually buying firearms and the reasons for those purchases and what was perceived in the culture, in the greater culture about guns and their role in crime and who was using them. I'll give you an example of that. Many years ago, before the laws were changed, it was very common to sell lots and lots of small single-barrelled shotguns to migrants. There was no restrictions in those days, in the '70s and '80s and '90s for people without green cards to buy firearms. In all the years that we did that, we never were aware of a single crime committed by these people. The purpose for which they bought those guns was they were living in the fields, and they hunted rabbits and doves and quail with them. It was never a problem. The perception in the greater community was that these people were demonized, they were dangerous. We never saw. The people who were dangerous, I would argue, were some of the people on the payroll of uncle Sam who were notoriously angry. He had a booming business in selling small revolvers to lots of women who had restraining orders and were in deathly fear of their lives. I thought hundreds if not thousands of them how to shoot for keeps. CAVANAUGH: Some of the state bills that are being thought about now that are being introduced require ammunition buyers to undergo background checks, they require more training for gun buyers. Things along those lines. RIPPO: Let me address the ammunition buying. That's an utterly pointless thing to do. Here's why. Ammunition is made up of various component, all of which can be bought in bulk anywhere, there's no restriction for them, and there's really no practical way to create restrictions on them. People can literally load their own cartridges. It's a simple pastime. Restricting the kinds of things that go into the components -- I don't think it would be a practical attempt at any sort of solution. CAVANAUGH: So it's sort of in a way, some things are -- you think would add to the ability to keep us more secure, and some things are just sort of out of touch? RIPPO: Yeah. If I had my way, if I could wave my magic wand today, people of military age who wanted to buy a gun would enroll in the national guard, in the state in which they reside. They would go in as an active or reserve member. At which time, they would get medical he screened. When you go into the service, somebody looks at you and tries to find out if you're got all your marbles in place. And to whatever extent they do that, that should be part of the show. CAVANAUGH: Well, that's incredibly controversial and incredibly restrictive. Yes? RIPPO: Let me add one thing to that. An element that I would not restrict are the elderly, the infirm, the disabled, and many women, particularly if they could show that they're in danger of their lives. I would, if I could do this, I would fast-track those people through any relevant registration, background check, or anything else and supply them with all the training that they need. CAVANAUGH: Robert, I'm going to let you have a quick last word. SPENCER: I find myself agreeing with almost everything that my colleague has said. The uniformity in the states are what we're seeking for on the national level. California has phenomenal laws, but I would take exception to the bullets and magazines. The Newtown -- 15 children got out of that classroom and are alive because the shooter had to change his clip. And also we apprehended Gabrielle Giffords' assailant in the same manner, when he was switching. The 100 round capacity magazines are not needed for any hunter. And I would take exception with that, but I agree with almost everything else he said. CAVANAUGH: I have to wrap it up. I want to remind everyone the vote today in the Senate is scheduled to start at 1:00 this afternoon. Thank you both very much for speaking with us. SPENCER: My pleasure. RIPPO: My pleasure, Maureen.

A vote may come as early as today on a Senate plan to expand the background-check requirement for gun purchases.

If it passes the Senate, the legislation will move to the House, which is why a group of gun control supporters demonstrated at the Vista office of Republican Congressman Darrell Issa yesterday. They see Issa, who gets an "A" rating from the NRA, as a big hurdle to any gun-control legislation passing in Congress.

Robert Spencer, who heads the Oceanside chapter of Organizing for Action tells KPBS they met face-to-face with the congressman's staff.

John Rippo, who spent 17 years as a gun dealer out of his father's business in Oceanside says the gun culture in San Diego has evolved from those who collect guns to the more dangerous models.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.