TURNING PAIN AND TRAUMA INTO ACTION
When Marcus Friedman ’21 (JD) was invited to meet up with a group of friends from his undergraduate years in Las Vegas, he thought it sounded like great fun.
“We all used to meet regularly at a country bar in Boston,” he recalls. “And even though I’m not a fan of country music, I really liked that community; it was so diverse and dynamic, with people from all different backgrounds.”
So when he got a call in San Diego — where he’d since relocated — to join a few of his old pals who were planning to go to the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in the fall of 2017, he saw it as an opportunity to spend some quality time together.
“It was a three-day festival, and we were going for the full weekend,” he says. But on the third night, the unimaginable occurred. “All of a sudden, we started hearing this rapid noise; it sounded like a busted speaker.” Then he saw the panic of the people on stage. “I knew something was wrong when the noises didn’t stop. Security told us to move away and I knew that wherever we were at that moment wasn’t safe.” It was chaos.
“We all got separated, which was scary. I remember trying to stay low. I remember tapping my friends around me and saying, ‘We need to move, we need to get out of here.’ Once I made it out of the tent, I turned around to look for them, and I didn’t see them.” He pauses, remembering. “There wasn’t much time or choice to look for them. I knew that they were making their way out. I don’t fully remember each stage of getting out of there. But we were lucky. We all made it to different places. And we all made it out OK.”
Many more did not. The horrific event was the deadliest mass shooting committed by an individual in modern U.S. history; 60 were killed, hundreds were wounded.
Just a few months later, on Valentine’s Day, Friedman noticed something odd on his Twitter feed. “I saw tweets that showed that Parkland, Florida was trending. “Why would my hometown be trending?” he wondered. “I told my mom, ‘I think we need to turn on the news.’”
He was still grappling with the hurt and pain in the aftermath of Las Vegas; to realize that another mass shooting was occurring so soon was unfathomable
“I was still dealing with all the emotions that came after Vegas,” he recalls. “We watched all the news coverage of our hometown, of places we recognized, and realized that what happened to me just a couple months earlier was now happening in the place that
I spent my high school years,” he says. Although Friedman didn’t attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, he lived just a few miles away; a lot of his neighbors had been students there.
Having two such terrible events happen in such close proximity to one another spurred him to action. “Seeing my old neighbors organize and become activists and create the national March for Our Lives movement showed me that I could be doing something as well. I think most people who experience tragedy — especially ones that bring up such emotion and pain — turn to activism. They want to make sure that what they felt is not felt by anyone else.”
Given these experiences, it’s not surprising that Friedman is passionate about gun violence prevention. As a third-year law student, he applied for, and was ultimately awarded, the 2021 Julianne D. Fellmeth Public Interest Law Scholarship.
“I wasn’t sure if my wanting to focus on gun violence prevention rights was something the Public Interest Law Clinic would be interested in,” he recalls.
“I met with Bridget Gramme [the center’s administrative director and supervising attorney], and asked her if this was something that the scholarship would cover. And she said, ‘Absolutely. Just send in your application, describing what area of gun violence prevention you’d like to work in, and we’ll consider it.’” The bill he’s working on, AB1057, will close a loophole for emergency Gun Violence Retraining Orders (GVROs) by including ghost guns — homemade guns made from readily available, unregulated parts — in the definition of items that can be seized items if a person is a threat to themselves or others. It’s being sponsored by California State Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris of the 74th District.
“I really enjoy this work, focusing on and writing legislation,” says Friedman. Early in his time working on the project, he was connected to a senior attorney at the Brady Campaign, a national organization to prevent gun violence, through the Center for Public Interest Law (CPIL).
“I’ve been analyzing bills not just in California, but in Nevada and New York to see which ones might need a little change in language to help them draft completely new bills regarding ghost guns or any other type of regulation to help make communities safer,” he says. “I can see myself doing something along this avenue after graduating and becoming a licensed attorney. I find it extremely rewarding.”
In late April 2021, Friedman was a witness presenting to the Assembly Public Safety Committee in support of the bill that he wrote, which passed on consent through the committee, a good sign that it will ultimately prevail. Julianne D’Angelo Fellmeth ’76 (BA), ’83 (JD) retired in 2019 after serving as the CPIL administrative director for 30 years. As the scholarship’s namesake, she’s excited that students are applying the skills they’ve learned to issues they care deeply about.
“Marcus’ project is the perfect example of using the law to create systemic change,” she says. “And the fact that he’s actually drafted a bill that is now pending before the California Legislature is a testament not only to his hard work and dedication, but to the real-world training that the School of Law is able to provide to its students.”
Virginia Nelson ‘79 (JD), who funded the scholarship, is thrilled to help students carry the legacy of Julie Fellmeth forward as they pursue their devotion to policy change to help the public.
“Truly, I am the lucky one to participate in this process,” Nelson says. “To witness firsthand the determination, drive and inspiration these extraordinary law students devote to their areas of focus, where they already make a difference, cements in my mind that our future is in the right hands.”
Friedman credits many others, including Fellmeth and Nelson, for their support.
“This is something that I really wouldn’t be able to do on my own,” he says. “I’m so thankful that I have their support and guidance in helping me through this process.” — Julene Snyder