Inland PAC fights for gun rights close to home – San Bernardino Sun

Fights over gun laws usually unfold in state houses and on Capitol Hill.

But an Inland gun rights political action committee has its sights set more locally.

The Inland Empire Gun Owners PAC works to elect local leaders who share its perspective on the right to bear arms. It also pitches in on lawsuits to stop new gun restrictions and helps people get permits to carry concealed firearms.

The PAC is not affiliated with the National Rifle Association or other national gun rights groups. While those groups have a more national or statewide focus, “we’re playing the long game and we’re looking to elect local politicians into the state and county levels that are Second Amendment friendly,” PAC Executive Director Karla Talley said.

Inland gun control advocates have their concerns about the PAC’s mission.

The PAC’s members are “fed so much propaganda that they believe that someone is coming to take their guns away, therefore they need this PAC to protect them from someone taking their guns away,” said Becky Sulzmann of Temecula, who belongs to a local chapter of the anti-gun violence group Moms Demand Action.  “I don’t know how, in the Inland Empire, we’re going to achieve that.”

The PAC is an offshoot the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC that formed seven years ago.

Sister PACs launched in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. After becoming executive director about a year ago, Talley merged the Riverside and San Bernardino chapters into the Inland PAC, which she said has roughly 550 active members and is “99.9% volunteer based.”

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In the first six months of this year, the PAC reported more than $39,000 in donations after raising more than $45,000 in 2021, Riverside County campaign finance records show. Most donations were $100 or less and came from Inland donors who are retired or work in a range of occupations, from lawyers and tattoo artists to plumbers and nurses.

The PAC exists in a state lauded by gun-control advocates for its firearms restrictions.

Everytown for Gun Safety rates California the top state in the nation for gun law strength, with laws requiring background checks to buy a handgun, banning high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapons and regulating parts that could be used to make untraceable “ghost guns.”

Besides new limits on gun ownership, privacy is another concern for California gun-rights advocates. In June, the state Department of Justice mistakenly posted the names, addresses and birthdays of almost 200,000 California gun owners due to officials not following their policies and being ignorant of how to operate their website, an investigation by an outside law firm found.

Polls show most Californians favor gun control.

A July 2021 poll from UC Berkeley’s Institute of Governmental Studies found 56% believe laws restricting gun purchases are effective in reducing crime and 57% think placing greater controls on gun ownership outweighs Americans’ Second Amendment rights.

The same poll found a split in gun control attitudes between inland and coastal counties, with 52% of inland respondents saying gun restrictions don’t lower crime and 49% prioritizing the Second Amendment over regulating gun ownership.

While Riverside and San Bernardino counties have pluralities of registered Democratic voters who are likelier than Republicans to support gun control, both counties aren’t as liberal as their coastal counterparts. Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Democratic candidates for statewide office lost Riverside and San Bernardino counties in the November election.

The Inland Empire is also no stranger to mass shootings.

Fourteen people were shot and killed and 22 wounded in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015, in what federal officials called the first terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Talley said her PAC’s main focus is “to vet and endorse and help get elected Second Amendment-friendly politicians in the local areas.”

PAC-endorsed candidates include Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco, San Bernardino County Sheriff Shannon Dicus, Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin, all of whom won new terms this year. The PAC also backed Riverside County Supervisor Jeff Hewitt and San Bernardino County supervisorial candidate Luis Cetina, who are on track to lose.

The PAC holds classes to help people get permits to carry concealed weapons.

“We also want to make sure that people in the area are properly trained and competent to be (concealed carry permit) holders,” Talley said.

The PAC also helps other gun rights groups suing to stop new gun laws.

“A lot of times the Firearms Policy Coalition says ’Hey, we’re gonna file this lawsuit but we need plaintiffs,’” Talley said, adding that the PAC helps by seeking members who meet the criteria to join the suit.

The PAC runs a program to help women, especially those who are victims of sexual assault or domestic violence, get firearms training and apply for concealed carry permits.

Talley said her PAC “want(s) to make sure that the local politicians know that we are a viable voting block.”

“And to do that, we need to organize together and not just kind of be hiding under the bed or whatever, trying to stay away from people knowing we’re firearm owners.”

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