This month, three mass shootings in three days shook California. Residents are facing grief, fear, and questions about what can be done to prevent future gun violence.
The first shooting occurred at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park on Jan. 21, the eve of the Lunar New Year. A gunman entered the studio and shot 20 people, killing 11. Two days later, a shootout at a gas station in Oakland injured seven and killed one. That same day in Half Moon Bay, a farmworker shot five co-workers, killing four. He then drove to another farm where he shot and killed three more people.
Despite the recent shootings, Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the U.S., ranked California as the number one state in the country this year for gun law strength. We cannot determine how many lives are saved by the state’s strict gun laws. It’s much easier to compile the data from shootings that happened than the ones that never did because of strict gun control. California may be preventing more violence than we realize, but aren’t able to appreciate.
However, one of our strictest gun laws, the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA) is not foolproof. In 1989, AWCA banned assault weapons in California. Originally, the legislation only banned the weapons by name, not by their features which led manufacturers to sell similar looking guns under different names. Similarly, in 1999 when AWCA was changed to ban specific modifications on guns, manufacturers tweaked these features to pass the new standards, threading through another loophole in legislation. These continued efforts to work around gun regulations reveal the grip guns have on American culture.
The constitutional right to bear arms has become a foundational point of pride for some Americans, and is probably the biggest obstacle to eradicating gun violence. Pew Research has found that at least 60% of Americans “have lived in a household with a gun at some point in their lives.” Gun ownership fits into American ideals of entitlement to one’s property, and the right to defend said property.
Support for tighter gun control is growing every year, but is highly dependent on party affiliation, according to a 2019 Pew Research study that found only 31% of Republicans favored stricter regulations compared to 86% of Democrats. Tense political interactions between Democrats and Republicans regarding gun control point to the larger issue of a lack of bipartisanship that is ultimately stalling legislation that could save lives.
If gun laws in California aren’t able to prevent gun violence and the constitutional right to bear arms is non-negotiable, focusing resources on responsible and healthy gun ownership may be the next best alternative. According to NPR, 98% of mass shooters in the United States’ history have been men, including two of the recently identified shooters in California. Varying “signs of crisis” have been identified in those responsible for mass shootings in the past 50 years, revealing a larger societal problem in men’s health.
Proactive policies beginning in elementary schools that identify and help high risk individuals gain emotional regulation skills and conflict resolution could prevent mass shootings. While such policy and other strategies to combat gun violence are deliberated over, awareness of how we socialize young boys and care for the men who may be struggling in our own lives could bring us closer to a more conscientious national identity.
Unrestricted gun use should not be the definition of freedom — liberty lies in the ability to go to work or go to a dance class without being killed.