The contentious issue of the future of gun legislation in the United States came to the Long Beach City Council chambers Wednesday night, as Congressman Alan Lowenthal led a periodically heated discussion on what his constituents want to see done at the congressional level.

There were few empty seats inside Long Beach City Hall as supporters of gun rights and advocates for tighter restrictions on access to firearms filled the chambers to hear what their elected officials had to say and to have their voices heard as well.

Lowenthal, who represents the 47th Congressional District, which encompasses many cities in the South Bay including Long Beach, was part of an historic sit-in last week, where Congressional Democrats disrupted normal House proceedings in an effort to force Speaker of the House Paul Ryan to allow two gun legislation pieces be discussed on the floor.

“We cannot have another moment of silence,” Lowenthal said, referring to what has become a macabre custom on Capitol Hill. “We cannot afford to wait any longer.”

While Lowenthal and his colleagues pledged to stay there “until hell freezes over,” the sit-in ended some 26 hours later when the Republican-dominated house forced their hand by holding a vote and then adjourning for the Fourth of July recess. The two bills the Democrats were pushing for, H.R. 1076 and H.R. 1217, would institute a so-called “no fly, no buy” policy for citizens on the national no fly list, and would expand background checks and eliminate some loopholes that currently exist.

The community forum sought to solicit input from the public about their feelings on the topic and feel out their desires for which direction they’d like to see gun legislation lean in the future. In addition to elected leaders, representatives from Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign—grassroots gun reform groups—also spoke for the need for Congress to enact change. 

Sharp Ideological Divide on Display During Long Beach Gun Viol…

The contentious issue of the future of gun legislation in the United States came to Long Beach on Wednesday as Representative Alan Lowenthal led a forum on what his constituents want achieved at the congressional level. Read more: http://bit.ly/295jXhJ Video by Jason Ruiz.

Posted by Long Beach Post on Thursday, June 30, 2016

Mayor Robert Garcia and Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga were on hand to lend their support to Lowenthal. Both men have been openly critical about the state of gun legislation, as the city has experienced an uptick in gun violence, predominantly at the hands of gang-affiliated perpetrators.

Garcia reiterated his stance that change was needed for a system that often makes it easer to purchase a gun than to obtain a drivers license. The discussion—or absence of one—that is occurring in Congress is unfathomable he said, adding that he, like many other Americans, demands Congress take action on the matter.

“What the congressman and many other members of Congress are asking for are sensible, moderate, responsible gun reform legislation,” Garcia said. “This isn’t an attack on the Second Amendment; this isn’t trying to make people’s guns away; this is simple measures put in place to try and make our country and our communities more safe.”

Uranga went one step further in dating the Second Amendment, casting it as out of step with the technology that exists now, allowing for efficient military-type weapons to end up on the streets.

“The elephant in the room is guns,” Uranga said. “Today dealing with this congressionally, we’re dealing with a mammoth. The Second Amendment, while it is a foundation of our country, is old.”

While pachyderms attended the meeting, the ideological chasm reflected in people’s comments were wide enough for an elephant to cartwheel through. The meeting quickly devolved into literal shouting matches, as attendees rattled off statistics and parroted talking points from both sides of the aisle.

“What are we supposed to do to protect ourselves?” one man repeatedly yelled over Uranga’s turn at the mic.

The dichotomy of beliefs and the polarized solutions to the gun question in the US was encapsulated during last night’s forum. The majority of the audience was receptive to Lowenthal’s push to get Ryan to allow for the vote to at least take place on the house floor in an attempt to reign in gun access to potential threats to public safety. And a small vocal minority cast that attempt as the beginning of a slippery slope that ends with all guns being taken away by a tyrannical government.

Long Beach resident Naida Tushnet split the ideological divide in saying that she was for parts of the proposed legislation, even adding that more should be done to ban assault weapons. However, she said a “no fly, no buy” policy could be laced with errors as the lists that would exclude some from gun ownership are compiled by humans.

“I am very fearful of the no-fly, no-buy,” Tushnet said. “I lived in a period of time when there was an attorney general’s list that had many, many mistakes on it. We have to very careful about creating lists of people.”

Fear was common theme, whether it be fear of the eradication of the Second Amendment or fear of being caught up in another mass shooting like the ones that have taken so many lives in cities like Newtown, Connecticut, San Bernardino and most recently, Orlando.

“What I am is scared,” said a Garden Grove man. “We have these posters up here showing people who went to a night club or people who went to the movies or school and are now dead at the hands of one person who got an idea and decided to act on it very effectively, very fast.”

Michael Dillon, a 66-year resident of Long Beach and proud gun owner, said he has owned a gun since the age of seven. He’s also a “very good shot,” he added. Despite his accuracy and advocacy for gun ownership, he took his mic time to disagree with some others in the crowd who said an expansion of guns in the American public was a means to deter crime. Dillon, who admittedly owns “high powered” weapons of his own, refused the claim that anyone keeps them for self-defense.

“By the time you can get to the gun the guy who’s already got it in his hand has shot you dead,” Dillon said. “And as far as having it so you can protect yourself in a nightclub or in a darkened theatre somewhere, how are you going to take aim and get at the guy? You can’t do that.”

Miguel Gutierrez, another long-time gun owner who lives in Torrance but works in Long Beach, took time to reinforce his support for gun ownership but also to throw his name in the hat of people supporting Lowenthal and the Democrats’ proposals.

“I think what we’re doing right now is going to the extremes of our own beliefs and what he’s trying to propose is something that is attempting to be a middle ground,” Gutierrez said.

The night had some rocky moments and its share of disruptions, but Lowenthal said it was important to break the silence that has permeated through Congress prior to the sit-in last week. The congressman said the dialogue exchanged last night could serve as a teachable moment for the elected officials in Washington to see that despite all the differences, this boils down to one key issue: protecting Americans.

“I think that came out, even though there is a lot of emotion, I think people know that they came on the opposition to this because everyone here was about taking away their guns,” Lowenthal said. “But people listened and people want to be safe again.”

He promised to keep pushing until the discussion is at least allowed to see the light of day on the House floor, noting that while the bills aren’t perfect, they do reflect what a majority of Americans want to see implemented. Lowenthal said that with so much pressure mounting on the Speaker of the House to allow that to happen, the discussion could come sooner rather than later.

Whether the House Democrats will require seat cushions, late night pizza deliveries and Pop-Tarts before Ryan caves has yet to be determined.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.