Anti-gun violence activist: ‘I’m so, so angry because it just keeps happening and it doesn’t have to’

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(Photo: Demonstration organized by Teens For Gun Reform, an organization created by students in the Washington DC area, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida /Lorie Shaull )

This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march in Los Angeles and cities across the country to demand a reduction in gun violence and tighter gun control laws.

Called the March for our Lives, the demonstrations were prompted by the February 14th mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people.

Activists have been fighting to reduce gun deaths and implement tighter gun control laws for years, before mass shootings at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

Loren Lieb is an epidemiologist, who became an activist in the wake of a Los Angeles shooting that touched her family. She talked to KCRW about what it’s like to keep fighting as the shootings continue.

After her six-year-old son was shot in an attack on a Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills in 1999, Loren Lieb committed her life to reducing gun deaths. Photo: Saul Gonzalez (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

KCRW: How did your gun violence activism begin?

LOREN LIEB: My activism started on August 10th, 1999. And it started on that day because that was day my son got shot. My two kids, they were six-years old and eight-years-old, and they were attending summer day camp at the North Valley Jewish Community Center when a heavily armed neo-Nazi entered the facility and he decided to make a statement about Jews. He shot five people, one of those injured was our son Josh, who was six-years-old at the time. He was shot two times and then the shooter left the Jewish community center and he murdered Joseph Ileto, a Filipino-American postal worker.

And that day, when my son could get shot, while he was attending summer day camp, that’s when my education started about guns. I felt that couldn’t happen to my kids and I just do nothing about it.

KCRW: What’s it like for you when other mass shootings happen, like the recent one in Parkland, Florida?

LL: I’m just angry. I’m so so angry because it just keeps happening and it doesn’t have to. The solutions are not that difficult. In this country, we can put a man on the moon. We have rovers that are driving around Mars. We have cars that drive themselves. We have phones that are smarter than any of us really need. But we lack the will to implement the changes that need to be put in place that would help save lives. Am I naive enough to believe that we can prevent all gun violence? No, of course not. But we can do a whole hell of a lot better. And its all must a matter of political will.

KCRW: You’ve been an activist in the trenches for tighter gun control laws for a long time. Has it ever been dispiriting for you over the last 20 years where the needle seems to be going the opposite direction. Arguably, it’s easier to get guns than ever before in the United States and are more that are out there than ever before.

LL: Well, there have definitely been years that are better than other years. But while we haven’t been able to accomplish much at a federal level, good things have been done at the state level, particularly in California. California has the strongest gun laws in the country. And, along with that, California has in general lower gun death rates than other parts of the country. Incremental change at the state level has been happening across the country. And so that’s where we put our focus.

Like the shootings in Parkland, Florida, the attack on the Jewish center in Los Angeles sparked national outrage, expressed in mass actions, like the Millions Mom March held on May 14, 2000, Mother’s Day. Photo: The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

KCRW: Do you have any advice for how the different sides on this issue can talk to each other?

LL: I think most people would agree that we don’t want people to die. There is a small fraction of very extreme gun rights activists who don’t want any regulation at all. And those people are the outliers. The majority of the population wants sensible regulations. The only ones who aren’t on board with that are some of our elected leaders.

KCRW: On a happier note – your son, Josh, how’s he doing?

LL: He’s a fine young man. He is 25. He’s finishing up graduate school, where he’ll get his masters in clinical psychology. He’s engaged to be married to his girlfriend. He is always very clear that he does not want to be referred to as a victim of gun violence, he is a survivor of gun violence. He doesn’t want to be defined by that.

KCRW: And you, do you ever see yourself leaving this fight completely behind?

LL: There are certainly times when I feel like I would like to leave it behind. But I don’t see that as an option. I feel like if I see something wrong, I have to try to fix it. We can’t all turn away and say ‘somebody needs to fix that problem.’ Who is somebody? We are the somebody who have to make the change. I hope sometime in my lifetime substantial changes are made. But until that day happens, we’ll keep fighting. And, yes, I get tired of it. And, yes, there are some days when I’m very discouraged. But there are other days when I’m inspired and I’m motivated and I keep going.