There is currently an outbreak of local gun control ordinances in Ventura County. This is happening in an area known for its independent streak and support of gun owner organizations. Thousand Oaks passed a gun restriction ordinance last March, and Port Hueneme and Simi Valley adopted similar ordinances within the week ended Aug. 9.
This unusual political activity is not a mere coincidence, but the result of years of hard work by local gun control advocates. One individual who stands out in the movement is Thousand Oaks resident Tim Heyne.
The name may sound familiar, not just because Heyne has spent decades in the world of rock music. Heyne was a victim of a hate-fueled rampage by a man with a gun.
THE WRONG PLACE AT THE WRONG TIME
That black day occurred on Memorial Day in 2005. Heyne and his wife, Jan, were with Heyne’s best friend, Steve Mazin, when Mazin’s neighbor, who held a grudge, approached the trio and shot them all. Mazin and Jan were killed. Heyne was left for dead with three bullets to the chest, but he survived and eventually recovered. All this, despite the fact that Mazin had a restraining order.
“The guy that killed my best friend, he was going to kill him no matter what,” Heyne said. “There should never be anyone at the wrong place at the wrong time, which we were.”
But the attacker was not finished. He violently hop-scotched his way through Thousand Oaks and was able to elude capture. The following day, the gunman invaded a home on Santa Rosa Valley Road and fatally pistol-whipped a young mother, Carole Nordella. When a sheriff’s deputy arrived, he, too, was attacked, shot in the arm. The violence continued as the gunman entered the Wal-mart in Simi Valley and there committed suicide.
Tim Heyne is a striking man, tall, athletic and casually dressed. His boyish black hair is just beginning to tinge gray. He speaks purposefully with the sonorous, deep clarity of a professional broadcaster. Heyne has a story to tell and a point to make. It is obvious that he is an experienced and passionate public speaker.
Heyne’s home speaks to the suburban sensibility where he and his late wife, Jan, raised their children. The house has a large frontyard, the interior is warm and welcoming. The street has a rural, quiet flavor and seems anathema to the spurt of violence which visited two years ago. The calm peacefulness of an upscale neighborhood has returned, but the man inside the traditional ranch house is very different from the one who moved in many years ago.
The mission Heyne has committed himself to is that of gun control, although he dislikes that terminology.
“Gun control is an incendiary term which the opposition likes to use because it sounds very condescending,” he said. “It speaks to the Second Amendment. What we are about is having sensible, responsible and accountable gun laws to keep the public safe.”
The group Heyne refers to as “we” is the Brady Center headquartered in Washington, D.C. Heyne organized the Ventura County chapter, ignoring the warnings from seasoned gun control advocates that it was the Wild West of gun ownership. In recognition of this feat, the Brady Center will be honoring Heyne for his work on gun control issues in November.
IT HAPPENS TO SOMEONE ELSE
After recovering from his devastating injuries, Heyne focused on making his hometown safer, beginning with the children.
“We never allowed our kids to have toy guns in our house,” Heyne said. He said questions need to be asked about one’s neighbors. “You ask, ‘Is there a fence around the swimming pool?’, ‘What kind of people are there when I send my child over?’, ‘Is there an adult at home?’, but it never occurred to us that, on the top of the list there should have been, ‘Is there a gun in the home?’”
“If they say yes, is it safely put away?” Heyne continued. “If they react negatively, like it’s none of your business, then I’ll have their child play at my house.”
Heyne said the first step in safety is education.
“I think it’s paramount that everyone learn gun safety,” he said. “You need to start at a very young age. If they are in a situation where a real gun is present, I think they should just get the hell away from the gun. Get away. Get away! Because that gun is going to hurt somebody.
“Most people think gun violence can’t happen to them,” he said. “It happens to somebody else. It doesn’t happen in Thousand Oaks. Guess what, it happened in Thousand Oaks.”
Although Heyne is advocating for two different gun restriction bills, there is one federal law on the books which infuriates him, the so-called Tiahrdt Amendment. According to Wikipedia, this law shields the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives from having to release information from the firearms trace database to anyone other than law enforcement or prosecutors in a criminal case. If the information is released, it is inadmissible in a civil case.
The Tiahrdt Amendment is incomprehensible to Heyne.
“The guns that were used on my wife and I, I wanted to find out where they came from,” he said. “I knew the killer, but were they illegal guns? Were they somebody else’s guns? Where did he get the guns?” Heyne said.
“I haven’t been able to find out because it is not my right to know. I have no right to know where he bought his gun or where he got his gun.” Heyne said, “The stated purpose (of the Tiahrdt Amendment) was that it (sharing information) was abusive in that it created an opportunity for the public to respond against manufacturers and retailers. There are so many gun laws now that strangle the sharing of gun-related data.”
‘THE MOST VILE INSTRUMENT OF DEATH’
So Heyne has been lobbying for the passage of meaningful gun restrictions. He supports AB 1471 which would require the microstamping of all handguns sold in California after 2010. The stamping would place identifying marks on any shell casings left after a gun is fired. Law enforcement would then be able to use the information in finding the weapon and solving the crime.
But there is opposition to the bill.
“The people who don’t support AB 1471 are traditional people who never support a gun law of any kind,” Heyne said.
Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) is the bill’s author. Feuer’s field representative Joshua Englander predicted the bill will go up for a vote after the Legislature reconvenes this month.
“The bill has passed the Senate Committee and is now going to the Senate floor,” Englander said. “I believe it will be a priority.”
Another bill, the so-called Lost or Stolen bill (AB 334), would require owners of handguns which have been lost or stolen to report the missing gun to law enforcement within a small window of time. This bill is being moved forward on the state level by Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys). Levine staffer Alex Traverso said the bill is on its third reading in the Senate.
“After the summer recess, it should come up for a vote in front of the full Senate,” he said. “Our office is currently working with the Schwarzenegger Administration on some amendments, as they vetoed previous versions of the legislation.”
The Lost and Stolen bill is the model for the new ordinances in Ventura County. Opposition to the ordinance is not very persuasive to Heyne.
“It’s a gun,” he said. “It’s an instrument of death. It’s the most violent, the most vile instrument of death you could have in your house. I’m thinking you should know where it is. You have a gun, you have a responsibility to go check on it to make sure it is where it is supposed to be.”
Thousand Oaks City Councilman Dennis Gillette supported the new Lost or Stolen ordinance which was passed last March and said Heyne was a large influence in getting it enacted.
“Tim became a very vocal critic of loose control by individuals of firearms,” Gillette said. “I, as one council member and gun owner, strongly agreed that if you are in possession of these things, if you own them, then you have an additional responsibility to keep track of them.”
Gillette addressed the opposition’s concern that strict enforcement of the ordinance could turn law-abiding citizens, who may have already been a burglary victim, into a criminal. He said, “I recognize the concern. You have to rely on the intelligence of the law enforcement agency to evaluate each situation. Is it a legitimate oversight or was it an intentional avoidance?”
No one from the NRA chose to respond to inquiries on this subject. Assemblywoman Audra Strickland voted against both state laws but refused to explain her position, leaving her chief of staff, Joel Angeles, to say, “We’re not going to participate at all in this series of articles.”
However, the opposition has not been silent.
“I have received many, many, many e-mails,” said Gillette. “I have in the past been a member of the NRA. I’ve been a hunter all my life. I’ve served in the Marine Corps and 25 years as a police officer. I’m not trying to infringe on anyone’s constitutional right to bear arms. This is one small tool to assist local law enforcement in the tracking of firearms.”
Port Hueneme Mayor Marciela Morales agreed with Gillette that the ordinance was needed.
“Last year we had such a terrible year for shootings,” Morales said. “The council took a very proactive stance in wanting to address issues of prevention and intervention as well as suppression.”
Morales said she received e-mails from the NRA.
“The basic message was, don’t do it. It can harm gun owners.” Morales continued, “The truth of the matter is, it doesn’t. If you’re a responsible gun owner then this doesn’t at all get in your way.”
Simi Valley also just passed a similar ordinance which was first brought to the City Council by Police Chief Mike Lewis. In it, residents will have 72 hours in which to report a missing hand gun. Additionally, anyone who has had a gun stolen within the past five years is required to report it to law enforcement.
Heyne insists gun control groups are steadily chipping away at the problem of illegal guns, despite the sudden life-altering effects of gun violence.
“We do baby steps,” he said. “Jan and I had 29 years of the most amazing love affair that somebody could have on the planet. I thank God every day for that. I’d love to be able to take your hand gun. But we’re not going to do that.”
Heyne added, “We never know about the lives, hopefully, we save. We’re making a dent.”