The gun, the gun, the gun, the gun. The common factor, always, is the gun.
This time, 11 victims were slain and nine others injured at a popular dance studio and ballroom in a heavily Asian American community, during a festive weekend of Lunar New Year celebrations. This time, the suspected assassin was a 72-year-old Asian American man who fatally shot himself as police closed in on him.
It was the deadliest mass shooting since the Uvalde, Tex., school massacre last May, when 19 children and two adults were killed. That time, the assailant — killed by U.S. Border Patrol officers — was an 18-year-old former student at the school who was armed with an AR-15-style assault rifle. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history occurred in October 2017, when a 64-year-old man carried 24 firearms, including assault rifles, and thousands of rounds of ammunition into a Las Vegas hotel room and fired into a huge crowd at a country music festival, killing 60 people and injuring more than 400 others with bullets or shrapnel. In that case, as in Monterey Park, the shooter killed himself before police could arrest him.
Mass killers have different profiles and different motives. Most are male. Many are young, few are old. By definition, virtually all are struggling with mental health issues of some kind; happy, well-adjusted people do not kill innocents at random. Some, as in the 2015 Mother Emanuel AME Church killings in Charleston, S.C., or last year’s supermarket massacre in Buffalo, are warped by racism. Some are antisemitic or xenophobic. Others are impelled by misogyny, personal grievance or paranoid hallucinations. Sometimes, the impetus is never known, much less understood.
In all cases, though, the assailants have been able to obtain guns and ammunition — usually legally and with ease. According to the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey, there are 393 million firearms in the United States, which has a population of roughly 334 million. We are outnumbered by our instruments of death.
counterpointWe need more research on guns. Here are 5 questions we can answer.
California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country. The state makes it illegal to possess the kind of weapon used in Monterey Park — a semiautomatic assault pistol with an extended magazine. It is not yet known how the assailant obtained the outlawed gun, but it would have been a simple matter to purchase the weapon in a state where it is allowed. And while off-the-books commerce in firearms might be against the law, it is hardly uncommon. As a practical matter, anyone who is sufficiently determined to have a gun will find some way to get one.
Last June, following the unspeakable horror in Uvalde, President Biden signed what was hailed as the most significant federal legislation to curb gun violence since the 1994 ban on assault weapons, which was allowed to expire in 2004. The new law provides money for crisis-intervention programs, encourages “red flag” laws allowing confiscation of weapons from dangerous people, and incrementally tightens background checks for gun purchases. But it does not address the central issue: Buying deadly weapons of war and all the ammunition you want can be done more easily and anonymously than, say, buying a new car or obtaining a passport.
The far-right majority on the Supreme Court takes the view — rejected for much of our history — that the framers of the Constitution intended the Second Amendment, written in the days of single-shot muskets and flintlocks, to apply to modern weapons with exponentially more killing power.
Politicians who feast on the National Rifle Association’s obscene largesse are cynical enough, or deluded enough, to claim that the solution to mass shootings is even more weapons — that the way to stop a “bad guy with a gun” is with a “good guy with a gun.”
But instances where this has been true are the exception rather than the rule. It is hard to imagine how more people firing weapons would have lessened the death toll in that crowded ballroom in Monterey Park. And when the gunman fled the scene and went to a second ballroom in nearby Alhambra, apparently with homicidal intent, he was disarmed by two brave “good guys without guns” — who might or might not have had similar success against a younger, stronger assailant.
At a minimum, we urgently need an assault weapons ban like the one we once had, which did reduce mass shootings. Someday, perhaps, a new Supreme Court majority will return sanity to gun policy. Until then: more senseless death, more grieving families, more broken hearts.