THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Justin Bouse survived the mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill here on Wednesday by hiding behind a stairwell and fleeing with his girlfriend Nicole through the kitchen and out the back door.
Despite the horrors of yet another gun-related massacre — during which a Marine veteran killed 11 people in the bar and a law enforcement officer who responded to the attack — and despite the fear and trauma the attack inflicted, Bouse said he’s fairly certain there won’t be a wave of anti-gun protests in this quiet Southern California community.
California already has some of the nation’s strictest gun-control measures, and the ex-military members and police officers who line-danced to country tunes at Borderline are more likely to wish they had been armed inside the bar, equipped to take out the shooter before he could do as much damage as he did.
“This crowd is conservative leaning,” Bouse said Thursday night outside of the shuttered dance hall as smoke from nearby wildfires filled the air. “If anything, they’ll be for more guns, and rise up that way.”
The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., set a template for gun control activism after an attack on their school in February that left 17 people dead. At the other end of the spectrum, there are communities such as Sutherland Springs, Tex., where a church shooting a year ago that claimed more than two dozen lives prompted community calls for increased gun ownership as a way to protect the innocent.
Thousand Oaks — an affluent community of Mediterranean homes about 40 miles from Los Angeles — seems likely to fall somewhere in between. Some residents spoke openly of wanting the mass shooting to inspire gun control, others said they would prefer more arms in public as a safety measure, and others seemed resigned to the status quo — an America with a massacre problem.
The grieving family of Telemachus Orfanos, a country music fan who survived the mass shooting at a Las Vegas country music festival last year only to be gunned down Wednesday evening, garnered attention when they called for gun control rather than the usual thoughts and prayers. Even so, in an interview with The Washington Post, the young man’s father injected a dose of pessimism.
“If mowing down 5-year-olds at Sandy Hook didn’t make an impression, nothing will,” Marc Orfanos said. “The bottom line is the NRA owns most of the Republican Party, and probably some of the Democratic Party as well. Until that vise is broken, this is not going to end.”
Thousand Oaks began as a planned bedroom community for Los Angeles in the 1960s, and it has grown more diverse and more affluent since, with the median home price rising to $669,500 — twice the national average. It also has shifted its politics, becoming more Democratic, though Republicans are still the largest number of registered voters, 36 percent to the Democrats’ 34 percent, the rest with no party preference.
The city’s state and federal representatives are now Democrats, and in 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump here by a margin of nearly 10 percentage points in the presidential election. Republicans here are moderate, but it’s still Reagan Country — the former president is buried just over the ridge in Simi Valley, at his grand presidential library.
Like its neighbor Simi Valley, the area is still a magnet for law enforcement officers from Los Angeles and cowboys of all stripes. Sixty-something ranchers in straw boaters often swing college girls to the “Sweetheart Schottische” on Borderline’s dance floor.
“By and large, this is a fairly conservative area with a high rate of homeownership and high incomes,” said Herb Gooch, a political science professor at California Lutheran University. “Historically, it’s been an area that’s been fairly conservative, except on issues of the environment.”
When the black-cloaked gunman — who police identified as 28-year-old Ian David Long — shot his way into the bar and onto that dance floor Wednesday evening, he was carrying a .45-caliber Glock handgun, authorities said. Such handguns are common and legal.
Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California Los Angeles and the author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America” said the shooting is likely to prompt state officials to pursue more stringent gun measures, noting that the Democratic governor-elect, Gavin Newsom, has vowed to take the issue on and to “raise the bar” on gun control.
“California already has a strong political will to do this, it doesn’t need the people of Ventura County to sign off on it,” Winkler said.
U.S. Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) said in a statement that the community “supports gun safety legislation and increased resources for mental health.” To do nothing, she said, “is a morally bankrupt position.”
The grieving and the vigils here were halted by a wildfire that swept through the area just after the shooting, prompting evacuation orders for about 75 percent of the community. As attention shifted away from the massacre, some local students said they hope a Parkland-style response is still possible.
“I think there’s going to be a really huge political movement here at CLU . . . and I’m pretty sure I’m going to be a part of it,” said Rama Youssef, a freshman at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. “The main thing I’m hearing from people here is, ‘It could have been me.’ ”
Youssef, a refugee who fled civil war and violence in Syria, was a regular at Borderline, and the shooting touched a nerve.
“I flashed back to so many memories from my childhood,” she said. “I was really scared to leave my dorm. I didn’t get up to eat until like 4 in the afternoon. I needed to convince myself there was no shooter outside.”
Chase Karbon, 17, who attended a vigil for the victims, said he was “not surprised” that the shooting happened in his neighborhood. He has thought a lot about what happened earlier this year to people his age in Parkland. He’s thought all along that the same thing could happen in his high school. And he sees no solution to the gun violence problem.
“I’m losing more and more hope every day,” he said.
He said that he expects there to be a big debate about gun control in his town in the coming days — and he expects that little will change.
“We did the same thing after Parkland; we’ll do the same thing after this,” he said. “And we’ll do the same thing after the next attack.”
Biasotti is a freelance journalist based in California. Joel Achenbach and Katie Mettler in Thousand Oaks, Calif., contributed to this report.