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Joshua Stepakoff was injured during a 1999 shooting at a Granada Hills Jewish community center. Now a student at Cal State Northridge and a vocal advocate for gun control, Stepakoff says he hopes the horrific shooting at a Connecticut elementary school sparks a serious, nationwide discussion about weapons. Patrick Healy reports from Granada Hills for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Dec. 14, 2012.
Not a day goes by that Joshua Stepakoff does not wonder why the United States has not done more to prevent indiscriminate gun violence. His epiphany came when he was just 6 years old.
Stepakoff was attending a day camp at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills that August day in 1999 when a disturbed gunman with a semi-automatic rifle burst into the lobby.
The gunman fired dozens of rounds, striking an adult employee, a 16-year-old counselor, and three children, including Stepakoff, shot in the lower leg and hip.
All of the victims recovered, but word of the massacre that killed 20 children and six adults in Connecticut on Friday again brought back that sense of devastation.
"You can't explain it," he said. "It's heartbreaking."
As Stepakoff sees it, there can be no excuse for further delaying the "meaningful action" President Barack Obama called for Friday. Stepakoff dismisses the notion that pressing the issue now is somehow "disrespectful" to the victims and their families.
"If now is not the right time, when is? People are shot every day... People need to realize this," Stepakoff said.
Stepakoff, 19, called on lawmakers to take two steps: restore the federal restriction on the sale of assault weapons; and strengthen pre-sale background checks.
"I think some changes could be made without truly interfering with second amendment rights," he said.
Stepakoff is now a sophomore at Cal State University Northridge, studying to become a pyschologist. Grateful for the care he received since 1999, he wants to treat post-traumatic stress "as a way of giving back."
The 1999 Granada Hills shooter was identified as Buford Furrow, an associate of White Supremacists and an avowed anti-Semite. Following the rampage in Granada Hills, he fatally shot letter carrier Joseph Ileto. Furrow then fled to Las Vegas, where he surrended to the FBI.
Under the terms of an agreement that avoided trial and spared Furrow the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to 16 counts and was sentenced to life in prison, two consecutive terms.
Another of Furrow's victims, Mindy Finkelstein, has also been active in advocating steps to reduce gun violence.
"This again has been brought to the national stage," Stepakoff said. "Hopefully, this time, the right people will take action."