California governor furious after third mass shooting in eight days
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After the worst massacre in Los Angeles County history, the California governor was meeting gunshot victims in hospital when he was pulled away and briefed on a mass shooting at the other end of the state.
Word that a gunman had killed seven people at mushroom farms in a scenic coastal stretch of Northern California came just hours after Governor Gavin Newsom spoke of his fatigue and frustration with mass shootings.
"I can't keep doing them," he told reporters earlier on Monday in Monterey Park, where 11 people were killed at a dance studio.
"Saying the same thing over and over and over again, it's insane."
Yet Mr Newsom was in Half Moon Bay on Tuesday to address the third mass shooting in just over a week in a state with some of the nation's toughest gun laws and lowest gun-death rates.
His voice brimming with anger, and emotional at times, Mr Newsom said he consulted notes he used at past mass shootings; the slaying of 12 at a Thousand Oaks country and western bar in 2018, the killing of three and injuring of 17 at the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival, the slaying of nine workers at a San Jose rail yard in 2021.
"I started writing in 'Monterey Park'," Mr Newsom said. "And now I've got to write in 'Half Moon Bay'. What the hell is going on?"
A 66-year-old farm worker was booked on murder and attempted murder charges after shooting eight people, killing seven, in a crime authorities said was a case of workplace violence in the rich agricultural area that lies between the Pacific Ocean and coastal mountains.
In Monterey Park, a 72-year-old gunman shot up a dance hall in an Asian American community celebrating Lunar New Year's Eve on Saturday night, injuring nine people in addition to the 11 killed. The gunman later took his own life.
A week earlier, at least two assailants fatally shot a 16-year-old mother clutching her 10-month-old baby, and killed four others in a brazen attack in a central California farming community that remained unsolved.
"Our hearts are with the people in California," US President Joe Biden said on Tuesday at a meeting with Democratic congressional leaders.
"They've been a rough, rough couple of days."
Mr Biden noted that senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, had introduced an assault weapons ban, and he urged politicians to pass it.
Mr Newsom also called for stronger gun safety laws, and took particular aim at large-capacity magazines — like the one the gunman at the dance studio had — and what he called "weapons of damn war".
"It's said all the time: 'Only in America,'" Mr Newsom said. "Number one in gun ownership, number one in gun deaths. It's not even complicated."
The recent killings moved California up five slots to 26th place when it comes to the number of fatal mass shootings per capita in the US since 2006, according to a USA Today/AP/Northeastern University mass-killing database, which counts killings of at least four people.
While California has the highest number of fatal mass shootings — 49, including the recent three — it had ranked 31st before these latest killings when adjusted for being the country's most populous state, with nearly 40 million residents.
After the back-to-back killings, detectives at both ends of the state are left trying to answer the question that often goes unanswered in the face of senseless violence: Why?
Los Angeles Sheriff Robert Luna called the dance hall gunman, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, a "madman" and said investigators were looking into whether he had relationships with the people who were shot at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio.
Mounds of flowers, including dozens of yellow and white chrysanthemums, were left in front of the studio's closed gates on Tuesday.
On a brick column next to the gates, someone had taped a piece of blue paper with the words "Ban Semi-automatic Rifles" typed on it, and below it a translation in Chinese.
The Half Moon Bay slayings came less than 48 hours after the killings at Monterey Park, when 66-year-old Chunli Zhao allegedly shot five people at a mushroom farm where he worked, killing four. Authorities say he then drove to a farm where he once worked nearby, and fatally shot three other people.
Mr Newsom said he purposely avoided news conferences in Los Angeles to meet with residents of the community, people injured by gunfire and the hero, Brandon Tsay, who disarmed Tran.
While he was in Monterey Park, a teary-eyed mother rolled up in her car and asked him to reassure her three daughters that everything was going to be OK.
Her eight-year-old had heard the gunfire and knew it was not firecrackers. She had not slept at night and was afraid to go to school, the mother said.
Mr Newsom told the girl, "It's going to get better."
But in front of a group of dozens of politicians, law enforcement officers and reporters assembled in Half Moon Bay, he said he was relieved she did not make him lock pinky fingers and promise like his own eight-year-old daughter would.
"Because I wasn't so sure," he said.
In 2022, the United States marked its first deadly gun rampage of the year on January 23.
By that same date this year, six mass killings had claimed 39 lives.
Gun sales in the US hit historic highs over the past two years as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, the economy stalled and people took to the streets to protest against police brutality and racial injustice.
Nearly 23 million firearms were sold in 2020, according to industry analysts. The surge largely continued the following year, with sales spiking 75 per cent the same month that a mob attacked the US Capitol.
Experts believe there are 393 million guns in private hands across the United States, which in 2022 was a country of 333 million people.
Some Americans say they do not feel safe anywhere. One-third avoid certain places as a result, according to the American Psychological Association.
Yet those gun control measures that have come into effect are rarely given the opportunity to become the new normal.
A federal lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association on Tuesday claimed Illinois's two-week-old ban on semiautomatic weapons had been passed in "radical" defiance of the US constitution's second amendment.
The powerful NRA joined a parade of gun-rights activists seeking to toss out the newly minted prohibition on dozens of rapid-fire pistols and long guns, as well as large-capacity magazines or attachments.
Democratic Governor JB Pritzker signed the law on January 10 in response to the shooting deaths of seven people at the Fourth of July parade in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, where 30 were also injured.
He said he believed the law would withstand court challenges regarding its constitutionality.
The NRA pleading notes that the US Supreme Court's landmark 2008 Heller decision refuses to let stand any restriction on "weapons that are in common use" today unless — another ruling last summer found — there is evidence of an "enduring American tradition" of restriction.
A Californian man has been hailed a hero after seizing the gun from a suspect who killed 11 people at a Los Angeles ballroom.
The Illinois law "takes the radical step of banning nearly every modern semiautomatic rifle — the single-most popular type of rifle in the country, possessed by Americans in the tens of millions," the document says.
The 24 million AR-15 semiautomatic rifles in US circulation far outnumber the 16 million Ford F-150 trucks, the nation's top-selling vehicle, according to the lawsuit.
The NRA-backed lawsuit also argues that the law's ban on high-capacity ammunition cartridges — no more than 10 rounds for rifles and 15 for pistols — and a long list of attachments and other accessories, is just as problematic because the weapons in question cannot operate without them, so the add-ons are constitutionally protected "firearms" by inference.
The pleading notes the tradition of bearing arms and includes a glossary of terms, explaining that the restricted semiautomatic weapons are not machine guns — the expulsion of each round requires a separate squeeze of the trigger.
It also points out that detachable magazines date back to the US Civil War and semiautomatic power is a century old.
For many in California, the issue of gun violence simply comes down to the one major variable that differentiates the United States from other countries across the globe which do not experience the same magnitude of mass killings.
"In the end, there are simply too many guns in this country. And there has to be a change," San Mateo County Board of Supervisors president Dave Pine said on Monday, in the wake of the mushroom farm shootings.
"This is not an acceptable way for a modern society to live and conduct its affairs."
For others, the violence is linked to an alienating period in US history that has isolated people from each other and chipped away at the ability to cope with life's travails.
"The pandemic has amplified and accelerated so many dangerous trends. We are experiencing a social recession that's literally bankrupting our souls," Reverend Jonathan Lee Walton, the president of Princeton Theological Seminary, said.
"We are normalising diseases of despair like loneliness, addiction, and gun violence.
"Social media, Zoom church, remote work, and virtual reality may be convenient, but they are morally anaemic substitutes for human connection."
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