Encinitas Mayor Kristin Gaspar is running for a San Diego County Supervisor seat. She’s gotten some key endorsements, including ones from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the four Republican San Diego City Council members and the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce.
However, a relatively new political action committee (PAC) is not supporting the Republican. That’s because in 2013, as an Encinitas City Council member, she supported a federal effort to ban assault weapons. And the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC wants to call out all local politicians whom they consider to be threats to the Second Amendment.
“We cannot have someone on the Board of Supervisors with this on their record,” said Michael Schwartz, the PAC’s executive director. “Part of our effort is to identify politicians who have been anti-Second Amendment and who are trying to advance to higher office.”
Gun control has become a hot-button issue at the national level, following a spate of mass shootings across the nation, including Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., and the terrorist attack in San Bernardino in December. The state Legislature held hearings on gun control in December, but it has not been as explosive a topic at the local level.
A number of powerful pro-gun organizations, particularly the National Rifle Association (NRA), operate nationally, and there are state organizations that seek to protect gun rights. But Schwartz said his organization is the first to work at the local level.
“We’re very, very unique,” he said. “I can’t find another example in California of a gun rights group operating on the county and municipal level.”
His organization is in the process of rating all mayors and council members of San Diego County cities concerning their stands on gun rights. They either get a thumbs up or a thumbs down.
Gaspar, who did not respond to inquiries for comment, got a thumbs down.
Also receiving a thumbs down was San Diego City Council member David Alvarez, who came out in support of an assault weapons ban when he was running for mayor in 2014. He didn’t even know the PAC existed, according to his office.
“He stands strongly behind his commitment to ban assault weapons,” said Lisa Schmidt, his deputy chief of staff, who said the rating will not affect Alvarez’s stand.
Other politicians who got a thumbs down include San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, San Diego City Council member Marti Emerald and Coronado Mayor Casey Tanaka. Those getting a thumbs up include Faulconer, San Diego City Council member Chris Cate and Vista Deputy Mayor Amanda Rigby.
The PAC is rating politicians for a number of reasons, Schwartz said. For one, some hope to move on to state elected positions, where they could be involved in the enactment of statewide gun laws. So, it’s important to know where they stand now.
“Once they get there, their minds are already made up,” Schwartz said.
Knowing where candidates stand on the issue also will allow the PAC to offer financial support to candidates who oppose gun control, he said.
Additionally, local municipalities do have power over gun rights. They can put unreasonable demands on gun shop owners, he said.
Schwartz noted that a gun shop owner in Carlsbad was not allowed to open a gun range at her business, located in an industrial area. The city’s zoning code didn’t exclude shooting ranges from industrial areas, but because shooting ranges were not specifically listed as an allowable use, the range was denied.
According to news reports, when the issue was debated before the City Council, a majority of speakers voiced support for the range. Now, the city is looking into permitting gun ranges in such areas.
The city of San Diego has raised licensing fees dramatically on gun shop owners, Schwartz said. When it sought to increase them again in April, a lawyer for the NRA sent a letter to the City Council in opposition, stating:
“Respectfully, we find it hard to believe it costs the City of San Diego over $1,800 to legitimately regulate a lawfully licensed firearm vendor. The California DOJ only charges firearm vendors a $115 fee for inspection costs, and that includes that agency’s costs in maintaining a list of all current California firearm vendors.”
The NRA attorney noted that other California cities charge about $500, making San Diego’s fee “appear suspiciously excessive.”
Schwartz has been a gun owner since he was 21. His father owned guns. He feels that government has been chipping away at gun rights for years. It’s one of the reasons he got involved with the PAC.
“Our group is going to change the (anti-gun) culture in politics, in the media and around the water cooler,” he said.
The group’s mission might not be easy, given that mass shootings are becoming more prevalent.
One of the nation’s worst mass shootings took place at a McDonald’s in San Ysidro in 1984. Twenty-one people were killed. Two were killed and 13 injured at a Santana High School shooting in 2001.
In 1979, in San Carlos, Brenda Spencer killed two and wounded eight at Grover Cleveland Elementary School. When asked why, the 16-year-old said, “I don’t like Mondays.” That phrase inspired the Boomtown Rats to write a song by the same name, which reached No. 1 in the U.K.
Because of these mass shootings, many leaders, including President Obama, have called for stricter gun control laws. Two years ago, U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California pushed to renew a federal ban on assault weapons. Many California city councils voted to support the effort. (That’s what Gaspar voted for.) But the bill ultimately was defeated.
Schwartz is agonized by the mass killings in recent years. “They’re extremely sad and heartbreaking and heinous,” he said.
But guns are not to blame, he said. “Getting rid of guns is not going to change a person’s evil intentions.”
Responsible gun owners are not the problem, he said. If you remove repeat offenders and people who are mentally unstable from the equation, the death statistics drop dramatically, he said.
His organization is made up of mainstream people who are simply interested in protecting their rights, he said. They include many types of professionals, both male and female.
Many are drawn to join because they want to restore and protect gun rights, as he does, Schwartz said.
“One of the reasons I do this is because I have compassion for people,” he said. “I want them to be able to protect themselves.”
David Alvarez, San Diego City Council member
Marti Emerald, San Diego City Council member
Casey Tanaka, Coronado Mayor
Cody Campbell, Vista City Council member
Matt Hall, Carlsbad Mayor
Michael Schumacher, Carlsbad City Council member
Mark Packard, Carlsbad City Council member
Mike Woiwode, Coronado City Council member
Bill Sandke, Coronado City Council member
Carrie Downey, Coronado City Council member
John Minto, Santee City Council member
Kristin Gaspar, Encinitas Mayor
Tony Kranz, Encinitas City Council member
Mark Muir, Encinitas City Council member
Lisa Shaffer, Encinitas City Council member
Kevin Faulconer, San Diego Mayor
Scott Sherman, San Diego City Council member
Mark Kersey, San Diego City Council member
Chris Cate, San Diego City Council member
Lori Zapf, San Diego City Council member
Bill Horn, San Diego County Supervisor
Randy Voepel, Santee Mayor
Rob McNelis, Santee City Council member
Ronn Hall, Santee City Council member
Keith Blackburn, Carlsbad City Council member
John Franklin, Vista City Council member
Ginger Marshall, Solana Beach City Council member
Richard Bailey, Coronado City Council member
Jim Desmond, San Marcos City Mayor
Sam Abed, Escondido Mayor