Josh Stepakoff was shot in his left leg and left hip when he was 6 while attending a day camp in the North Valley Jewish Community Center in August 1999.
“A neo-Nazi came in with a semi-automatic weapon and shot 70 rounds on us in less than a minute,” Stepakoff said, now a clinical psychology graduate student at Pepperdine Universtiy. “What I didn’t realize was the … post-traumatic stress disorder and the mental health aspect of it that continued to linger on, and it’s been 18 years.”
Stepakoff was one of the gun violence survivors Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California met at the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital on Tuesday. In response to nationwide efforts calling for gun control, including the March for Our Lives over the weekend, Feinstein met with activists and medical personnel to discuss gun reform.
Feinstein said she hopes Congress passes assault weapons legislation, such as that which approves comprehensive background checks and raise the age for gun purchases.
“The fact of the matter is we are 4 percent of the population of the world – America – and we have 40 percent of the weapons,” she said. “Since Sandy Hook, there have been 200 school shootings with over 400 people killed (or wounded). There’s a school shooting virtually every month in this country.”
Feinstein added that an assault weapons ban bill she introduced in 1994, and which ended in 2004 helped reduce gun massacres.
“The 10 years after it ended in 2004, everything escalated – deaths, shootings,” she said. “And the gun companies began to pump out these weapons.”
Deborah B. Prothrow-Stith, dean of the College of Medicine at Charles R. Drew University in Los Angeles, said she has seen firsthand the negative effect assault weapons have had on victims.
“The destruction carries throughout and into families,” she said. “It gets harder, not easier, to deliver this news, whether you are delivering it to a child who is at school or a mother of an African-American 16-year-old on the street.”
Stepakoff said he has been a gun control advocate for 18 years and is optimistic activists will make progress in pushing for gun control legislation.
“I feel a difference this time around, and I hope that it sticks and will continue in this fight no matter what happens,” he said.