Loren Lieb’s son Josh was shot dead twice during the 1999 North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting.
At the time, Josh was a 6-year-old at JCC summer camp. When a white supremacist entered the Granada Hills campus with multiple firearms, Josh was shot in the shin and hip. Fortunately, the bullets narrowly missed his spine and he survived.
The incident exposed his mother, Loren, to the grim reality of gun violence in the United States, where about 40,000 people die each year from gun-related injuries (about 60 percent of them are suicides), according to a 2019 Pew study, and according to a report by the in According to the 2018 Small Arms Survey based in Switzerland, there are over 393 million guns in circulation.
Lieb, a retired epidemiologist, has been a dedicated gun control activist ever since. She is currently the Board Chair of Women Against Gun Violence and is involved with the San Fernando Valley Chapter of Brady California.
Before the JCC shooting 22 years ago, Lieb said her view of gun violence was “kind of NIMBY: ‘If it doesn’t affect me, I don’t have to worry.’ The JCC shooting helped open my eyes.”
Lieb was interviewed for this article shortly after the introduction of a new bill on January 3 that seeks to reduce gun violence in California. Assembly Bill 1594 would make it easier for individuals to file lawsuits against members of the gun industry if a firearm causes injury or death.
If AB-1594 is passed, AB-1594 would authorize individuals to bring lawsuits against the firearms industry — including manufacturers, dealers and sellers of firearms — “when their failure to comply with federal, state or local laws resulted in injury or death or if the member of the arms industry intervened in unfair business practices,” reads a provisional text of the law.
At the time of going to press, the final wording of the bill was still being drafted.
Although Lieb is not involved in drafting the legislation, he supports efforts to provide financial incentives for the gun industry to change negligent behavior. Earlier this month, she attended a press conference announcing the bill at the request of one of its lead authors, Member of Parliament Phil Ting, whose district includes parts of San Francisco and Daly City.
“The industry could do something to protect public safety, but it doesn’t do it, and it doesn’t do it because it has no incentive to do so,” Lieb said.
As Jews, we are called to pursue justice or Tzedek. Fundamentally, working to end gun violence is a matter of justice for our children and our communities.
Several Bay Area-based elected officials are co-authors on the bill, including Palo Alto Assemblymen Marc Berman and North Bay Assemblymen Marc Levine, and San Francisco Senator Scott Wiener.
“Every year we have a package [of bills], the Tikkun Olam package, and healing the world definitely involves reducing the number of guns in society,” said Wiener, vice chairman of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus. “So I suspect this bill will have strong support from our caucus.”
Berman also spoke of the Jewish imperative to curb gun violence.
“As Jews, we are called to pursue justice or Tzedek,” he said in an email. “Basically, working to end gun violence is a matter of justice for our children and our communities, and holding the gun industry accountable for its role in perpetuating gun violence is necessary to achieve justice.”
For years, the federal law protecting the lawful arms trade protected the gun industry from lawsuits. Signed into law in 2005 during the George W. Bush administration, the PLCAA protects firearm manufacturers and dealers from liability if their products have been used in crimes.
AB-1594 would expose a loophole in the PLCAA that does not grant gun marketers, manufacturers or sellers immunity from punishment for violating federal, state or local laws.
For her part, Lieb would like to see a reduction in “straw purchases,” or if one person couldn’t pass the mandatory background check to purchase a gun (or doesn’t want their name associated with the transaction), lets another person, a proxy -Buyers who buy gun for them.
The majority of “crime weapons come from a small percentage of the stores,” she said. The law would empower people to file civil lawsuits against “bad gun dealers,” Lieb said.
AB-1594 is modeled on a similar law recently passed in New York, which is due to be heard before a committee in February.
While Lieb couldn’t predict if it would become law, she said the state’s mostly Democratic legislature has an encouraging history of supporting gun control efforts.
“Our California legislature generally supports common sense gun violence prevention policies,” she said.