Confronting the problem of mass shootings here in California
In the last week, our state was again rocked by mass shootings.
A Lunar New Year celebration turned tragic as a lunatic took 11 lives in Monterey Park. Barely a day later, a disgruntled employee killed seven coworkers in Half Moon Bay. Once again, we are distraught and looking for answers to the scourge of gun violence.
Many Democrats’ knee-jerk reaction is to further restrict Californians’ Second Amendment rights. But despite some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, California continues to be plagued by violence. What we’re doing isn’t working.
Despite Gov. Gavin Newsom’s insistence that guns are the only link between these shootings, many of these crimes have something else in common: shooters who demonstrated disturbing warning signs including mental illness or a long history of violence.
The Monterey Park shooter was “mad at the world” and arrested previously for illegally possessing a firearm. The Half Moon Bay suspect faced a restraining order after trying to suffocate his roommate.
Further back, last year’s Sacramento shooting just steps from the Capitol was instigated by a career criminal who was let out early after kidnapping and beating his girlfriend. The San Jose mass shooting suspect talked about killing coworkers and the Borderline shooter in Thousand Oaks displayed angry, irrational behavior.
In my own district, the perpetrator of the Rancho Tehama killing spree had a long history of violent, erratic behavior before he terrorized the community.
We need a better approach. One obvious step is to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them. California has a system for this called the Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS). It identifies people who have guns but need to be disarmed due to a criminal conviction, domestic violence or severe mental illness. The state Department of Justice is tasked with recovering these firearms, but has been notoriously lax in execution.
The result is a backlog of nearly 25,000 people illegally in possession of firearms. This is low-hanging fruit in the effort to end gun violence. We know who these people are and that they possess guns illegally. But under Democratic leadership, the list has continued to grow. This is unacceptable. We need to demand results from the DOJ and increase cooperation between state and local law enforcement to retrieve these guns.
We also need to get serious about gun crime. Using a gun to victimize someone should come with serious consequences. But California has done the opposite, passing a 2021 law, signed by Governor Newsom, to effectively end sentencing enhancements, including for using a firearm to commit a felony.
What message does that send?
Finally, and perhaps most difficult, is addressing the underlying issues that drive someone to commit such a horrific act. These shooters are deeply disturbed, and it’s rare that they suddenly snap. More frequently, there are warning signs: disturbing comments, irrational actions, and threatening behavior. The Public Policy Institute of California notes that 80% of mass shooters show signs of crisis.
We need to listen to these warnings, identify people inclined to commit violence, and intervene early.
In the wake of the San Bernardino shooting, I authored a bill to raise awareness of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign to report suspected terrorist activity. Similarly, we should educate Californians to speak up about tell-tale signs in a friend, family member, co-worker or fellow student. That way, if someone is going down a darker path, we can intervene.
To be clear, this cannot be an excuse to arbitrarily seize someone’s guns because they once lost their temper or acted strangely. There must be strict due process protections to respect people’s rights, but if someone is on a path to atrocity, we have to step in.
Democrats’ go-to approach of more gun laws is not stopping mass shootings and their rhetoric is nothing but a distraction from their own failures to address gun violence.
By recovering guns from people who shouldn’t have them, sending a message that gun crime is unacceptable, and intervening early with those at risk of violence, we can better prevent tragedies like we’ve seen in recent days.
James Gallagher represents the 3rd Assembly District and serves as Assembly Republican Leader.