After Monterey Park, more gun safety talk
Yet another mass shooting, and another reprise of a tragically familiar refrain.
After the massacre late Saturday night at Monterey Park’s Star Ballroom Dance Studio that left 10 dead and 10 others hospitalized, on Sunday one politician after another, including President Biden, expressed sorrow and offered condolences. (An 11th person died Monday.)
A few quickly called for stricter gun laws — California has the strictest gun laws in the nation, but since 2020, federal rulings have begun to unravel some of them.
Because this shooting happened on Lunar New Year’s Eve in a city, just outside Los Angeles, known as America’s “first suburban Chinatown,” some elected officials were quick to suggest that the attack was a hate crime against Asian Americans.
But the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department later identified the shooter as an Asian man, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran of Hemet. After a tense manhunt, authorities located him in a white van in a Torrance strip mall parking lot, dead from what Los Angeles Sheriff Robert Luna said was a self-inflicted bullet wound.
The gunman’s motive remained unclear late Sunday.
The Sheriff’s Department connected the Monterey Park incident with one in nearby Alhambra, in which it says Tran walked into another dance club with a gun. People inside wrestled the weapon away from him before he fled, the New York Times reported. The weapon was reported to be a magazine-fed semiautomatic assault pistol, with an extended magazine attached — illegal to possess in California.
- Gov. Gavin Newsom, who made an unannounced visit to the community Sunday and ordered flags at state buildings to fly at half-staff: “Monterey Park should have had a night of joyful celebration of the Lunar New Year. Instead, they were the victims of a horrific and heartless act of gun violence….No other country in the world is terrorized by this constant stream of gun violence. We need real gun reform at a national level.”
Assemblymember Mike Fong, a Democrat who represents the San Gabriel Valley community of Monterey Park, told CalMatters he plans to push for stronger gun safety laws — though he didn’t offer specifics — and more money for violence prevention.
It’s uncertain whether California would be able to successfully tighten its gun laws. Already the state’s ban on assault weapons, on high-capacity magazines and on rifle purchases by adults under the age of 21 have been slapped down by conservative judges. The U.S. Supreme Court also tossed out New York’s limits on who can carry a concealed gun in public, and California could be next.
That doesn’t mean Democrats in the Legislature aren’t trying. Bills already introduced this year would overhaul the state’s licensing system for concealed carry permits, ban most civilians from buying or owning bullet-proof vests, and levy new taxes on firearms and ammunition sales. Republican legislators are backing an effort to give people convicted of gun-related crimes longer prison sentences.
Some evidence indicates the state’s existing laws have helped reduce gun violence. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranked California as having the seventh-lowest rate of firearm deaths of any state. And the Public Policy Institute of California looked at data from 2019 to 2021 and found the state’s death rate from large-scale shootings was below the national average.
Yet just a week ago, in the Central Valley, another mass shooting killed six people, including a 10-month old baby, his 16-year-old mother and a grandmother in the Tulare County farming community of Goshen.
A mass shooting is defined by the Gun Violence Archive as a single incident in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are killed or injured. By that metric, this weekend’s incident marks the 33rd mass shooting in the U.S. thus far in 2023.
CalMatters covers the Legislature: With the state Legislature back in session, CalMatters has you covered with guides to keep track of your lawmakers, explore its record diversity, make your voice heard and understand how state government works. We also have Spanish-language versions for the Legislature’s demographics and the state government explainer.
Other Stories You Should Know
1 The commemoration of Roe
Sunday would have marked the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark case that guaranteed abortion access throughout the country. A lot has happened since last year’s Dobbs case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court jettisoned Roe and left the legality of abortion to the states.
Many Democrats campaigned on abortion to stave off a big Republican wave in the mid-term election, and in California — a state that goes further than any other as a bastion of abortion rights — voters officially enshrined that guarantee in the state constitution. State lawmakers enacted measures that ensure providers and patients cannot be sued or prosecuted, and that low-income people — including those from other states — can afford the procedure here.
Vice President Kamala Harris, a former California attorney general and U.S. senator, reflected on all of that in an appearance Sunday from Florida, a red state that serves as blue California’s foil, and vice-versa.
- Harris: “These rights were not bestowed upon us. They belong to us as Americans.”
- State Attorney General Rob Bonta, on Friday: “We’re determined that the 50th anniversary of Roe will be the darkest one and that it only gets better from here, that freedom and choice can one day again be unfettered, fully protected under the law at the state level first and then one day again, nationally.”
Meanwhile, anti-abortion advocates shifted the focus of their annual March for Life to members of Congress, who movement leaders said “must be warned against making any attempt to curtail the multiple anti-abortion laws imposed last year in a dozen states.” House Speaker Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield pledged the support of the new Republican majority.
- McCarthy: “While others raise their voices in rage and hatred, you march with prayers, goodwill, fellowship, compassion, and devotion in defense of the most defenseless in this country.”
Who leaked the Dobbs ruling? A report from the Supreme Court said it investigation was inconclusive – though several law clerks acknowledged discussing with their spouses the draft opinion and the vote count.
2 Bridging, or widening, the achievement gap?
For decades, educators and legislators have tried to close the achievement gap in test scores between California’s Black students and their white and Asian peers. An item in the governor’s proposed budget for next year was supposed to address that — but critics say it falls short, reports CalMatters’ education writer Joe Hong.
Last year the Legislature approved a bill by Democratic Assemblymember Akilah Weber of La Mesa that would have targeted extra money directly to Black K-12 students. Newsom didn’t agree to the bill, but promised to incorporate the idea into his next budget.
Which he now has done, with a difference: Worried about violating state and federal laws banning preferential treatment of specific racial or ethnic groups, the governor aimed the extra money at high-poverty schools, rather than Black students specifically.
The catch: Fewer than 26% of Black students attend a school that would qualify for the $300 million Newsom’s proposing, according to a CalMatters analysis.
Some experts and advocates say this could perpetuate the achievement gap it’s supposed to help remedy.
- Tyrone Howard, education professor at UCLA: “I don’t think you can take 245 years of slavery and Jim Crow and a legacy of separate and unequal education and expect this gap to not exist.”
But Assemblymember Lori Wilson, a Fairfield Democrat and chairperson of the California Legislative Black Caucus, said she’s pleased.
- Wilson: “To get to where you want to be, it has to be an incremental approach. We do not look at it as a loss in any way, shape or form.”
In other budget news, transit agencies, advocates and lawmakers pushed back more on Newsom’s proposal to cut transit spending. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon has said he’s open to dipping into reserves rather than cut transit and climate money.
Budget negotiations will go until June. Up sooner is the Feb. 17 deadline for lawmakers to introduce bills. Many of those will be vague “placeholders” that lawmakers later amend with details. Some are already specific:
- Sen. Melissa Hurtado, a Democrat from Bakersfield, would ban foreign governments from purchasing farmland
- Assemblymember Juan Alanis, a Republican from Modesto, would give first responders priority enrollment at California’s public colleges and universities
- Assemblymember Corey Jackson, a Democrat from Perris, aims to ease dress code requirements for the Assembly floor.
- Assemblymember Ash Kalra of San Jose wants California to adopt a state mushroom.
Reminder: Many introduced bills never pass. Here are some that did become law in 2023.
In other legislative news: If you thought last session’s heated bid to unseat Rendon as Assembly speaker was over, it pretty much is, but with a twist.
After months of tension, the Assembly Democratic Caucus agreed that Rendon would continue as speaker until June, after which Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Salinas would take over. But lawmakers told Politico that Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula, Democrat from Fresno, has been soliciting their support for the job.
- Arambula acknowledged his pursuit to Politico, adding: “A consensus decision regarding our next speaker rests with the members of our caucus, and I will respect their decision.”
3 Border barrier battle
From California Divide reporter Wendy Fry: Plans to construct two layers of 30-foot barriers through historic Friendship Park at the U.S.-Mexico border in San Diego County will continue despite the objections of state leaders, local community groups and at least 15 members of Congress.
Activists have been particularly frustrated that — in their view — the Biden administration is breaking a campaign promise to build “not another foot” of former President Donald Trump’s border wall.
For decades, families separated by the border (and federal immigration policy) could briefly reunite at the park, between Imperial Beach and Playas de Tijuana, while being supervised by U.S. border agents. Pre-pandemic, people would drive from as far away as San Francisco to spend a couple of hours in the park with family and friends from the Mexico side, said John Fanestil, of the Friends of Friendship Park.
- The California Latino Legislative Caucus: “Friendship Park serves as a beacon for the people of California, and represents our countries’ shared historical, cultural, economic and social commitments.”
U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last week it’s moving forward with a revised plan to replace the existing gated single-layer barrier, calling the ocean-jutting structure “dilapidated.” An outcry prompted the agency to abandon plans to remove a pedestrian gate; it now says a gate would be open at designated times.
- The border agency: “This will allow visitors on the U.S. side of the border to communicate with friends and family located in Mexico on the other side of the primary barrier like in years past.”
Activists are unmoved. “Our fear is that this proposal, construction of 30-foot walls, would effectively render Friendship Park closed to the public,” Fanestil said. The group announced a rally at a nearby Border Patrol station for Tuesday morning.
CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: California wants more people to use public transit for transportation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but ridership is down and transit systems face a “fiscal cliff.”
The 2030 deadline for California hospitals to complete seismic retrofits is a top-down approach that fails to recognize the distinct challenges of rural facilities, argues Douglas Shaw, CEO of Mad River Community Hospital in Arcata.
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