People gather at a candlelight vigil for victims of a deadly mass shooting at a ballroom dance studio on January 23, 2023 in Monterey Park, California. An eleventh person has died and ten more were injured at the studio near a Lunar New Year celebration on Saturday night. The vigil was held at City Hall in the predominantly Asian American community. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
(*This column was updated at 9:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 1/24/23 to update the reporting.)
My Nhan, 65, immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s, and made her home in California’s San Gabriel Valley, in a community called Rosemead.
Her niece, Fonda Quan, said she was ready “to start the year fresh,” and celebrate with her friends, according to the CBC.
She never got the chance.
Quan told the CBC that she didn’t know how her aunt found her interest in ballroom dance, but said she thought it might have had something to do with her getting a chance to dress up and have some fun.
“What I do know is she’s always been really into fashion,” Quan said. “And I think those beautiful dresses come with ballroom dancing. I guess that probably has some connection.”
There’s not a single good reason that Nhan, or the 10 other people who died in Monterey Park, or the seven more people who died in an eruption of violence in Half Moon Bay, Calif., just 48 hours later, had to lose their lives.
They were victims, both of the cruel murderers who cut them down too soon, and of America’s pathological obsession with guns that are all too easy to obtain, and all too easy to use as instruments of mass carnage.
The solution — making guns harder to get, and keeping them out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them — has been staring us in the face for years.
But confronted with the classic definition of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again, while hoping for a different outcome — we have not done as both logic and compassion demand of us.
And people such as Nhan, who fled her war-torn country for a better life in the United States, end up casualties in a war of attrition where the death toll only mounts and nothing ever changes.
And the toll is staggering.
In January alone, there have been 39 mass shootings, leaving 70 people dead and 167 people injured, NBC News reported, similarly citing Gun Violence Archive data.
The research group defines mass shootings as incidents in which four people, not including the shooter, are injured or killed.
Based on those criteria, the United States has averaged more than one mass shooting a day since January 2022, and not a single week passed last year without at least four such incidents, according to the Post.
But one veteran lawmaker, who’s pushed for gun violence reduction measures for years, said he remains hopeful for the possibility of change.
“I’ve seen the evolution in public opinion over the years,” said state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, whose Pittsburgh-based district includes the Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people were slaughtered in 2018, in the worst incident of antisemitic violence in American history.
“People want to know what you’re going to do about [the violence],” Frankel told the Capital-Star. “There is a growing sentiment to do something.”
That’s backed up by polling data, with an overwhelming majority of gun owners saying they favor of universal background checks, support raising the minimum age to buy guns to 21, and back and so-called “red flag” laws to remove guns from potentially dangerous people, according to an NPR/Ipsos survey released last November.
While Pennsylvania’s current state budget includes money for gun violence prevention efforts, Republicans who then controlled the General Assembly stymied Democratic-backed efforts to limit access to weapons and to require stricter background checks.
That funding by state lawmakers, along with congressional and White House action last year resulting in the first, major federal gun safety effort in 30 years, was a start. But it remains nowhere near enough.
As he has in past legislative sessions, Frankel is again pushing a package of anti-hate crimes proposals that would address the root causes of some of the violence.
With the House likely to swing back to narrow Democratic control after a series of special elections next month, Frankel told the Capital-Star that he believes there’s room for common ground.
“We want to get something done,” Frankel said of his legislative allies who favor the reduction measures. ” … We want to find a way to move the ball down the field.”
On the other side of the Capitol, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat whose hometown has made national headlines for the gun violence plaguing its streets, is sponsoring a raft of bills aimed at curbing the bloodshed.
Among them is a bill, co-sponsored with fellow Philadelphia Democratic Sen. Art Haywood requiring mandatory licensing for someone looking to purchase a weapon.
In a memo to their colleagues seeking support for the proposal, which provides exceptions for law enforcement and active-duty service members, Hughes and Haywood pointed to data from the Johns Hopkins Center on Gun Policy and Research, showing that states with licensing laws tended to have lower rates of firearms-related deaths than those without them.
“This legislation is not intended to punish responsible gun owners,” the two lawmakers wrote, looking to short-circuit the reflexive criticism by the pro-gun faction. “In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that most American gun owners support going through law enforcement to receive a permit. It is also important to note that Maryland has enacted a similar proposal that has been upheld in federal court.”
Again, an answer so obvious — we license drivers, hunters, fisherman, boaters, barbers, and so many others — that it’s ridiculous and tragic that we have not done it already.
But the pure and simple fact of the matter is that, until we embrace the solutions staring us in the face, there will be more My Nhans, and thousands of others who will we mourn, whose families will set an empty place at dinner forever, and whose deaths will turn into one more number piled on a numbing mountain of statistics.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, as Adam Garber, the executive director of the gun violence-reduction group CeaseFirePA, told the Capital-Star in an email.
“It is easier to continue the work to save lives than to console another mother in grief. It is easier to fight for a safer future than to wonder if the next mass shooting will be at my child’s school,” Garber wrote.
“And even if it was harder, it’s the only thing we have because we cannot allow the communities we love to continue to be torn apart,” he continued. “While the NRA is strong, I promise you [that our desire] to save lives is stronger and will win out. The question is what is the toll in the meantime. Legislators can keep it low if they listen to Pennsylvanians.”
The change is there if we are courageous enough to embrace it, tough enough to do the hard work of making it happen, and compassionate enough to vow that no family will ever have to suffer such towering loss ever again.
If we are truly serious about honoring the fallen, that’s where the journey starts.
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