Nick and Amanda Wilcox take step back after nearly 20 years of gun safety advocacy in California Legislature (PHOTO GALLERY/VIDEO)
Nick and Amanda Wilcox’s lives were changed forever in January 2001 when Scott Thorpe killed their daughter, Laura, during a shooting rampage across Nevada County.
In the nearly two decades since then, however, the couple has turned their devastation into a lever for change on the state and national stage.
Amanda and Nick Wilcox have been familiar faces at the state Capitol, after they founded the Nevada County chapter of the national Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Amanda took on the volunteer role of legislative chair for Brady California.
“She is a voice that is always there,” noted California Assemblyman Phil Ting on Monday, as he joined with other state Assembly members to honor Nick and Amanda Wilcox for their work. Ting called his introduction of the Wilcoxes a “very sad honor,” as the couple recently announced their intent to step back from active lobbying.
Amanda “has done an incredible job of carrying on her daughter’s legacy,” Ting said. “We are so thankful for all the hours she has voluntarily given to our state — really to our country.”
Reflecting on the last two decades, both Amanda and Nick Wilcox acknowledge that all the work they’ve done — shepherding 83 gun safety bills to passage and working to implement Laura’s Law in every county in the state — has been a way to honor their daughter.
But, they say, the advocacy was also a way to regain a sense of purpose after Laura’s death. Advocacy was a way of letting the world know about Laura, how wonderful she was, Amanda said. And it was a mission the Wilcoxes could take on together.
“I wasn’t functional back then,” Amanda admitted. “I was barely getting out of bed.”
“I had to find meaning in my life,” Amanda continued. “I had to find a way to live again. We were fortunate to find something that was a good fit for us, on an issue we have always cared about. For victims, it’s very important to tell your story — to tell Laura’s story.”
Nick came to advocacy from a different perspective, he said.
“I admit, I was very angry,” he said, adding, “Advocacy is kind of a way of expressing institutional anger.”
“Fighting the system,” Amanda said.
“Trying to correct a system that took our loved one,” Nick agreed.
Models for the nation
Amanda Wilcox said she had financially supported gun safety efforts since college, noting, “It always was something I cared about.”
But, she said ruefully, “I always thought we were doing it for other people. I never thought we would be personally touched. But after Laura was killed, we realized we had to do more.”
Nick and Amanda were instrumental in the 2002 passage of Laura’s Law, a state law that allows for court-ordered assisted outpatient treatment for the mentally ill.
“It was the first big policy issue we worked on,” Nick said. “We learned a lot.”
The Wilcoxes also started speaking out on death penalty abolition and gun control reform issues and began working with the state Brady campaign.
“In the beginning, people didn’t know us,” Amanda said. “Now they ask us if we have ideas, what we think, will Brady support this bill, will you testify …”
The support for better gun safety measures has changed significantly, the Wilcoxes said.
“The issue has changed since Sandy Hook,” Amanda said, particularly in progressive California. “Many legislators are eager to do a gun bill.”
“We’ve been fortunate in that the political landscape has changed in our favor,” Nick said. “In the early days, we really had to count votes and twist arms.”
Now, said Amanda, if a bill makes it to the Assembly floor, it likely will pass.
The flip side, she said, is that now they have to vet the bills to make sure they really can be implemented, and at what cost.
“It’s more, is this policy going to do what it says?” Amanda said.
And unintended consequences also need to be examined, both Nick and Amanda said — for example, ensuring a bill does not make conduct criminal in a way that overwhelmingly impacts people of color.
“We did the obvious things a while ago, like background checks for all gun sales,” Amanda said.
“We feel a responsibility to not support things that don’t make sense,” Nick said. “We do want to be fair. We don’t want to unreasonably burden law-abiding gun owners.”
The Wilcoxes were very involved in helping to pass the 2014 law that created the Gun Violence Restraining Order process in California. Nationally, that type of law is called a Red Flag Law.
Amanda Wilcox was the first witness to testify during the committee hearings.
“I don’t normally go into my story — but Scott Thorpe was very relevant,” she said, noting with pride that the bill passed and became a model for the nation. “Now 17 states have passed it.”
Amanda also testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on the need for extreme risk laws in March 2019, when there was a federal bill mirroring California’s law that passed five years earlier.
“The whole idea is there are people who at times are dangerous,” she explained. “It could be an emotional crisis, it could be heightened anger, or they could be suicidal, and people around them know they’re dangerous. It’s a way to take their guns temporarily.”
After all, Nick said, “You can always give a gun back, but you can’t get a life back.”
While that federal bill seemed to have bipartisan support, Nick said, the impeachment process of President Donald Trump has derailed passage.
A new chapter
After a serious stroke three years ago, Nick stepped back from the advocacy, while Amanda carried on, drafting letters of support, analyzing upcoming bills and preparing for testimony.
“I got worn out,” she said. “It just became too much.”
But, Amanda and Nick said, they are not walking away completely from their work in the Capitol and will focus on policy and strategy — staying involved in the “fun stuff,” Amanda said.
“I feel we have made a difference,” Amanda said. “We have the strongest gun laws in the country — and we have dropped gun death rates significantly.”
Amanda admits the decision to semi-retire from the volunteer position has been somewhat traumatic.
“I love the advocacy work, I love the people who are committed to trying to make positive change,” she said. “And it’s a way to remember Laura.”
Nick agreed, saying, “It feels like she has (had) her hand on our shoulders.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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