Gov. Gavin Newsom has spoken more eloquently than anyone else about the three California mass shootings that occurred in rapid sequence, killing at least 24.
“What the hell is going on?” the longtime gun control advocate asked simply Tuesday in Half Moon Bay, where a 66-year-old farmworker was accused of fatally shooting seven co-workers and wounding another because of some grievance.
“Only in America. … The absurdity.”
Yes, America is certainly not great on gun deaths, and never will be as long as we’re blocked from much-needed national firearms regulations by Republicans.
Among the major industrialized nations, the United States has by far the highest gun homicide rate. No other country is anywhere close. That’s because other nations tightly restrict access to firearms.
America can’t do that because of the Second Amendment, but we could do a much better job nationally than we’re doing.
UCLA law professor Adam Winkler, who specializes in gun law, winces whenever politicians and pundits crow about California’s tough gun restrictions.
“We need to stop saying things like, ‘California has strict gun laws,’” he says. “That’s only in comparison to Texas and Mississippi. Compared to England, Japan and France, California has among the loosest firearms restrictions in the world. We don’t have incredibly strict gun laws.”
I’m not always a fan of Newsom’s rhetoric. It’s often overly emotional, awfully wordy and too repetitive. This is particularly true when he’s trying to enhance his national stature among Democrats by attacking conservative governors in Texas and Florida. I figure he has plenty to be angry about in his own state concerning problems that affect fellow Californians.
But on these shootings, he has had the right tone and length, especially in Half Moon Bay, a small coastal town just south of San Francisco. There he met with victims’ families, local leaders and reporters.
Newsom spoke of his frustration over mouthing “the same thing over and over and over” after each mass shooting. And aren’t we all tired of doing that?
“I have no ideological opposition to someone owning a gun responsibly, but what the hell is wrong with us that we allow these weapons of war and large-capacity clips out on the streets and sidewalks?” he asked. “Why have we allowed this culture, this pattern, to continue?”
Most of us keep asking that.
“Where’s the Republican Party been on gun safety reform?” the Democratic governor continued. “They’ve fought it every step of the way. … Shame on them.”
Where has the GOP been? Appeasing the relatively small gun-worshiping cult and becoming more hard right, in large part due to the gerrymandering of U.S. House districts.
In a competitive party primary, gun enthusiasts are often the decisive swing voters. And they’re single-issue voters — people whose decisions on candidates solely depend on a politician’s stance on guns.
GOP members of Congress fear that if they vote for major gun control, they’ll be booted out of office by fellow Republican constituents.
By contrast, most American voters — and certainly Californians — support national gun control, such as requiring universal background checks, banning assault weapons and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines to 10 rounds. But gun control isn’t high on their priority list.
California arguably has the nation’s strictest gun control laws, but they’re starting to be eroded by conservative courts, led by the U.S. Supreme Court. For example, California’s ban on high-capacity magazines is in litigation limbo.
And even with our surviving tough restrictions, they’re at the mercy of adjacent states — Nevada and Arizona — that have lax restrictions. Those neighbors are a great source of weapons for Californians who can’t arm themselves locally.
That’s why national regulations are needed — such as meaningful background checks and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s long-advocated assault weapons ban.
California was way ahead of the curve on assault weapon bans, passing its first in 1989 when Republican George Deukmejian was governor.
Deukmejian then was regarded as a mainstream conservative. Today he’d be seen by his party as a leftist.
Like a lot of people, I suspect, my first reaction upon hearing about the shooting rampage that killed 11 and wounded nine at a Monterey Park dance hall frequented by Asian Americans was that the culprit was a young male white supremacist. Wrong. It was a 72-year-old Asian American man.
So, there’s no common demographic or motive for these mass killers.
Dr. Amy Barnhorst, a psychiatrist and associate director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis, says of mass shooters: “We can’t solve all their problems. But we can stop these people from acting out by keeping them away from large-capacity weapons.”
That won’t happen, however, as long as a few heavily armed firearms lovers outgun the rest of us politically. The majority needs to use their most powerful weapon, the vote.
George Skelton is a Los Angeles Times columnist.
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