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Twenty Years Since a Nightmare – 35 Shot in Landmark Tragedy

WASHINGTON --- Twenty years ago this Saturday in Stockton, a close-knit farm city in the heart of California’s Central Valley, a man with a history of arrests, mental illness and problems with alcohol shot and killed five students and wounded twenty-nine others along with a teacher at Cleveland Elementary School.  

The shooter, Patrick Purdy, spray-fired 106 rounds of ammunition in about two minutes using an AK-47 assault rifle equipped with a 75-round ammunition drum.

The tragic shooting in 1989 spurred advocates and legislators in California into action.  The California Legislature quickly passed the nation’s first ban on assault weapons. And it was the beginning of a string of many legislative victories in California during the next twenty years.

“Many people who were sitting on the sidelines on the gun issue finally said ‘enough is enough’ after the Stockton schoolyard shootings,” said Paul Helmke. “The tragedy in Stockton helped to propel people into activism that has resulted in California now having the strongest gun laws in the country.” The latest victory was the cutting-edge microstamping measure that was signed into law in 2007.

The Stockton schoolyard shooting and the deadly shooting at a high-rise office building at 101 California Street in San Francisco in 1993 led to the enactment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban signed by President Clinton in 1994. Congress and the Bush Administration allowed the law to expire in 2004. California, meanwhile, went on to strengthen its assault weapon law in 1999, and now has the strongest ban on assault weapons in the country.

The significance of the Stockton shootings is not lost on the California Brady Campaign Chapters.  

“Many of our advocates across the state recall the day of shootings in Stockton,” said Amanda Wilcox, President of the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Brady Campaign.  “Our chapter leaders and members continue to work for sensible laws and policies that will further reduce gun violence in California.”  

The Brady Campaign opened up offices in California in the early 1990s in Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco. Now the Brady Campaign has twenty California chapters that represent areas from Nevada County to San Diego.  

“Stockton was a critical moment in the history of the fight for sensible gun laws in America,” Helmke said. “This week, the dedicated volunteers in this movement are remembering those who suffered and those who lost a child there. We mourn for them and we renew our commitment to this important cause.”

“Over the last twenty years California has made it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons. We are working to make sure other states and Congress heed California’s example,” Helmke concluded.



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