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After Monterey Park, More Gun Safety Talk


PUBLISHED JAN 23, 2023 9:58 A.M.
Before killing 10 people Saturday night, Huu Can Tran was disarmed at a nearby dance club, where he was carrying an illegal semi-automatic pistol.

Before killing 10 people Saturday night, Huu Can Tran was disarmed at a nearby dance club, where he was carrying an illegal semi-automatic pistol.   Photo by Ionelia Nuca, Shutterstock, for illustration only.

BY SAMEEA KAMAL, CalMatters

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.

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 Congressional Research Service as one in which four or more people, not including the shooter, are killed. By that metric, this weekend’s incident marks the 33rd mass shooting in the U.S. thus far in 2023.

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