By Toni G. Atkins
Three young lives were cut short on July 28 in Gilroy, California – a 6-year-old boy, Stephen Romero; a 13-year-old girl, Keyla Salazar; and a 25-year-old man, Trevor Irby. They were indiscriminately murdered while attending a community celebration, the Gilroy Garlic Festival, where people should be concerned with nothing more than great food, lively music, and enjoying one another’s company.
We had barely gotten to know who they were before a horrific massacre occurred in El Paso just six days later, when a racist gunman traveled 650 miles to “kill Mexicans” at a popular Walmart. Before he was apprehended, he murdered 22 people with the same kind of military-style weapon used in Gilroy.
We had little time to catch our breath before we heard the news that just 12 hours later, another young man had randomly killed nine people at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, also using a military-style weapon.
I didn’t need to personally know Stephen, Keyla, or Trevor to feel deep sadness. I need only think about people of similar ages who I do know, and how their young lives are full of promise, hope, and infinite possibilities. I didn’t need to know any of the 31 people who died needlessly in El Paso and Dayton. I need only think about their families and friends, and the indescribable pain of loss they must feel.
We must not succumb to numbness as these incidents mount. We must continue to do whatever we can to keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.
California has been trying to just that. Our state leads the nation in sensible gun regulation.
We’ve restricted who can legally sell firearms, and how they can sell them. We’ve required a waiting period between sale of a firearm and possession, barred anyone younger than 21 from purchasing a gun, and limited purchases to one gun per month. We’ve banned those who are prone to violence from buying firearms. We’ve restricted sales of ammunition in various ways. We’ve strengthened our laws on where and how guns can be carried. And we’ve banned certain high-powered weapons that have no place in the hands of anyone who is not in the military and fighting on a battlefield. Additional gun-control measures are currently under consideration in the Legislature.
Data show a strong correlation between stricter gun laws and fewer gun-related deaths, according to CalMatters, citing research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There’s no doubt in my mind that these laws have made Californians safer.
However, despite our efforts, we cannot claim success. Mass shootings are still happening.
What is certain is that California cannot go it alone.
The Gilroy murders are evidence of that. I won’t name the shooter, and I don’t want to say much about him, but I will point out that the weapon he used – similar to an AK-47 – is banned in California. He was able to get his hands on it and use it to kill three Californians and injure 15 others because it was perfectly legal for him to buy it in Nevada. Transporting the weapon across state lines was likely illegal, but no one wants to see cars being searched before they’re allowed to enter California.
Nearly 40% of guns used in crimes that could be traced to a source come from a state other than the one where the crime was committed, according to Vox, citing federal government data – and Arizona and Nevada lead the nation in providing weapons for out-of-state crimes.
As long as our neighbors continue to treat weapon sales with such a laissez-faire attitude, and as long as the federal government allows such a wildly varied patchwork of gun laws, Californians – and all Americans – will be less safe from mass shootings.
The Second Amendment is a stalking horse for those who profit from the sale of weapons. I grew up in the South, and I understand that hunting and gun ownership are a part of everyday life in some communities. But hunting rifles and handguns used to protect one’s family aren’t going to be confiscated. No civilian needs to possess military-style weaponry. And there’s no good reason to oppose thorough background checks.
Congress and the White House should have immediately tightened federal gun laws after 20 first- and second-graders were slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, if not long before that.
Heartbreakingly, it’s too late for those children. It’s too late for the 34 innocent people who died in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton – not to mention our own backyard of Poway, where Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered on April 27 at her synagogue. But it’s not too late for those who might die in the next shooting. Or the next. Or the next.
— Toni G. Atkins represents District 39 in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.