As mourners were gathering Monday evening for a candlelight vigil in Monterey Park for 11 people killed by a gunman at a dance studio, word spread of another mass shooting in Half Moon Bay.
Siu Fong, a Monterey Park retiree who volunteers at the Langley Senior Center, knew two of the victims of that shooting. With another spasm of violence less than two days later, she was left wondering: What is happening in California?
“I would say there needs to be a little bit more gun control,” she said. “Of course, a lot of people say they need guns to protect themselves, but the thing is, maybe they need stronger background checks. I don’t want people going to gun shops to get guns.”
California is reeling from three mass shootings carried out in one week.
- Six people were found fatally shot inside a home in Goshen, Calif., on Jan. 16 in a case police believe could be tied to organized crime.
- On Saturday night, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran walked into the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park and opened fire, killing 11. He then went to a second dance club in Alhambra but was disarmed. Police think jealously over a personal dispute might have been the motive in the attack but emphasize that the investigation is continuing. Tran carried a 9-millimeter MAC-10 when he walked into the Monterey Park dance hall about 10:20 p.m. Saturday and began spraying bullets as frightened patrons ducked for cover. Authorities recovered at least 42 spent shell casings from the scene.
- Then Monday afternoon, seven more people were killed in two shootings in Half Moon Bay that authorities say are connected. A 66-year-old man is suspected of opening fire at two rural farms about a mile apart, shooting some of the victims in front of children who lived nearby and had recently been released from school. The shooting suspect, identified as Chunli Zhao, was believed to work at one of the farms. Police have not revealed a motive in those shootings but said the incident appeared to be a case of workplace violence.
“Tragedy upon tragedy,” Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was visiting Monterey Park on Monday, said of the two attacks.
California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, and there has been talk of even more restrictions in the wake of the latest violence.
Data suggest the rules have made a difference. As The Times reported last year, in 2005, California had almost the same rate of deaths from guns as Florida or Texas, with California reporting 9.5 firearms deaths per 100,000 people that year, Florida reporting 10 and Texas 11, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics. Since then, California repeatedly has tightened its gun laws, while Florida and Texas have moved in the opposite direction.
Still, the continuing mass killings have many searching for answers.
“This is tragic on multiple levels,” San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa said. Noting that some of the victims in the Half Moon Bay shootings were Chinese farmworkers, he said it was “horrific that it’s a Lunar New Year [and] you have people massacred both in Monterey Park and in the Half Moon Bay area. We should be celebrating, but instead we find ourselves — because of gun violence — burying innocent people.”
Some are calling for tighter gun laws.
“We are sickened by today’s tragedy in Half Moon Bay. The scourge of gun violence has sadly hit home,” San Mateo County Supervisor Dave Pine said in a statement.
“We have not even had time to grieve for those lost in the terrible shooting in Monterey Park. Gun violence must stop. The state of California has among the strictest gun laws in the United States, which we have strengthened through local action here, but more must be done,” he said. “The status quo cannot be tolerated.”
Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) lamented the scale of violence to hit California in such a short time.
“Two hours ago, I joined my colleagues on the Capitol steps for a vigil for the victims of the shooting in Monterey Park,” he said on Twitter. “Before we’ve even had a chance to mourn them, there is yet another mass shooting — this time in Half Moon Bay. In my district.”
Speaking to reporters Monday before the Half Moon Bay shooting made news, Newsom talked about what California has achieved on gun control.
“The success is demonstrable. It’s overwhelming, that our gun safety laws save lives. And you see leadership here back in 1967, when the modern gun rights movement was launched, then by Ronald Reagan, you saw it with the assault weapons ban in California 1989, led again by California senator in 1994. California will continue to lead red flag laws, background checks, waiting periods across the spectrum,” he said.
But the governor noted that people who want to avoid California gun laws can simply go to a state with lesser regulations, buy weapons and bring them back.
One question is what other laws California can enact.
One new law that took effect Jan. 1 gives residents and state visitors new powers to threaten the gun industry.
SB 1327 authorizes anyone other than state or local government officials to sue people who violate the California’s laws against the manufacture, distribution or sale of assault weapons, ghost guns and other banned firearms.
Lawsuits also could be brought against gun dealers who violate the state’s law against selling or transferring weapons (besides hunting rifles) to anyone younger than 21.
Last year, California legislators failed to pass a bill that would have strengthened the state’s concealed-carry law that Newsom and Democratic leaders crafted in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that expanded a person’s right to carry firearms outside the home.
It remains unclear how the guns used in the three latest mass shootings were acquired.
At the memorial in Monterey Park, many said they came to honor the victims and turn to others for comfort.
“There’s something about being with others who feel just as sad as you do,” said Enrique Hernandez, who had arrived on a bicycle. “You don’t feel so alone.”
When he heard about the Half Moon Bay shootings, he added: “Too much bloodshed.”
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