Thousand Oaks parents: 'I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control.'
Marc and Susan Orfanos awoke at 2 a.m. on Thursday in Thousand Oaks, California, to a call from a relative in New York. The groggy-eyed couple stumbled into a ritual that is familiar to parents in Columbine, Blacksburg, Aurora, Newtown, Orlando, Parkland - and, as of this week, also in the quiet outpost of Los Angeles.
They waited to find out if their child, who had survived the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history last year in Las Vegas, had perished in another mass-casualty shooting.
"You're always holding out hope," Marc Orfanos, 63, said in an interview. He and his wife had raced to the Borderline Bar and Grill, where a line-dancing night for college students ended when a lone gunman opened fire shortly before midnight. As they waited in a crisis center nearby, several survivors told the distressed couple that they thought they had seen their son flee the bar.
It wasn't until noon on Thursday that a police officer told them the news: Their 27-year-old son, Telemachus Orfanos, was dead.
That marked the end of one grim ritual, and the beginning of another, as the Orfanos parents channeled their private anguish into a public cry for gun control - a cry that has echoed from Aurora to Newtown and beyond.
But what distinguished their plea was an utter disavowal of the stock response to the violence that claimed their son's life.
"I don't want prayers. I don't want thoughts. I want gun control," Susan Orfanos said on local TV.
"And I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers," she said, vigorously shaking her head. She emphasized each word, demanding: "No more guns."
Whether anyone will listen, her husband said, the victim's parents know that's in question.
"If mowing down 5-year-olds at Sandy Hook didn't make an impression, nothing will," said Orfanos, a semiretired substitute teacher. "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." (The NRA gave financial backing to a handful of Democratic congressmen this cycle, according to the Center for Responsible Politics, a nonpartisan research group.)
There was hardly a groundswell of support on Thursday for new measures to restrict access to firearms. A muted debate unfolded along familiar lines. Everytown for Gun Safety, founded and financed by former New York mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, urged the new Congress to take "common-sense, strategic actions" to reduce gun violence. Gabrielle Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in 2011, said she was "heartbroken, angry, and never going to accept this as normal."
The NRA, meanwhile, pointed to California's already-tight controls - the state was the first to ban assault rifles, nearly 30 years ago. The organization's spokesman, Dana Loesch, aimed to make the debate about mental illness, which is a problem that is not particular to the United States, where the rate of gun homicides is much higher than it is in other high-income countries.
Authorities said Ian David Long, 28, had legally purchased the .45-caliber Glock handgun he had wielded inside the bar. He also used an extended magazine, which officials said required additional analysis to determine how many rounds it could hold, and whether it may have violated state law.
Democratic lawmakers expressed hope that the new balance of power in Washington, ratified by the midterm election on Tuesday, would shift the debate. There were notable victories for gun control advocates, including Lucy McBath, whose son was killed in a 2012 shooting. The Democrat seized a closely watched House seat in the Atlanta suburbs.
"It is unfortunately not surprising that on the same day I officially became a congresswoman-elect, other families in this country are receiving the same exact call that I did six years ago when I learned my son had been murdered," McBath said in a Thursday statement posted on Twitter. She said she would work to "make our communities safer."
In the Colorado district that includes Aurora, the Denver suburb where 12 people were killed in a movie theater in 2012, Democrat Jason Crow unseated Republican Rep. Mike Coffman. Guns were also a fault line in Northern Virginia, where Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock fell to Democrat Jennifer Wexton.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of midterm voters, including 42 percent of gun owners, supported stricter controls, according to an NBC News exit poll, while 36 percent were opposed.
But the NRA also had gains to celebrate. Candidates backed by the deep-pocketed organization won many more races than they lost, according to a tracker run by The Trace, a gun-related news outlet. The NRA helped oust Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana, and it helped elevate Sen.-elect Marsha Blackburn, a Republican congresswoman in Tennessee.
Blackburn told Fox News on Thursday that the shooting made clear the need to "protect the Second Amendment and protect our citizens" before shifting the discussion to mental health.
The senior Orfanos said his son, who went by "Tel," was hardly a critic of the Second Amendment. In fact, the 27-year-old was something of a gun enthusiast.
During his time in the Navy, he often visited shooting ranges, and when he returned home to live with his parents several years ago, he asked if he could keep a gun in the house. They wouldn't allow it.
"My take is that if there's a gun in the house, there's always a possibility of an accident, or of suicide," his father said. "It increases the odds."
Orfanos had hoped his son would change his mind after the Navy veteran survived last year's mass shooting at a country music festival in Las Vegas. His son suffered PTSD from the episode, in which he had helped pull mutilated bodies out of the line of fire, Orfanos said.
"He still thought people can have their guns," his father said. "But even he said they didn't need extended magazines, which is what the person had who murdered my son."
He said the country's "gun culture" is the cause of his son's death - a culture maintained by what he condemned as the fearmongering of the NRA.
"I blame flat out the Wayne LaPierres of the world, the Dana Loesches, because they put the fear of God in some of these people who think they need to have guns up the wazoo," Orfanos said, referring to the executive vice president of the NRA and the group's prominent spokeswoman.
The only way to change the culture, he said, is to pass "rational gun legislation" that protects people's ability to arm themselves in the interest of self-defense but prohibits weapons such as AR-15s and high-power handguns.
The victim's father said it was time to "get real and put an end to this violence." His wife, Orfanos said, remained inconsolable through Thursday.
"My son was a Navy veteran, and, fortunately, he never faced combat," Orfanos said. "Last year in Las Vegas, he survived as his friends were shot all around him, only to come back to our home and be murdered in our hometown."
This article was written by Isaac Stanley-Becker, a reporter for The Washington Post.