After a week of mass shootings, one after the other after the other, California is battered.
First, there was the gangland-style execution of six family members in the rural Central Valley community of Goshan. The victims, who were shot in the head, included a 16-year-old and her infant child. Then, a gunman murdered 11 people and injured nine others who were celebrating Chinese New Year at a dance studio in Monterey Park, near downtown Los Angeles. A day after that, a disgruntled employee shot up two mushroom farms in the picturesque coastal town of Half Moon Bay, barely half an hour out of San Francisco. Later that night, another gunman killed one person and injured seven more in Oakland.
Four mass shootings in a row, and this in a state with some of the toughest gun laws in the country. California has universal background checks, laws intended to get guns out of the hands of those convicted of domestic violence, red-flag laws allowing the police to confiscate weapons from those deemed to be an extreme danger to themselves or others, waiting periods for the purchase of weapons, and an array of other gun control measures.
Last year, the California legislature passed a bill, SB 1327, modeled on the Texas law that allowed private citizens to sue anyone who helped a woman secure an abortion. California’s version allows for private citizens to sue people involved in the manufacture and distribution of automatic weapons and ghost guns, both of which are banned in California. Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill into law in July.
This year, lawmakers are pushing measures intended to make it easier to remove guns from those who pose a public risk, and to raise taxes on gun manufacturers.
In the aftermath of the shootings, Governor Newsom said that the fetishization of the Second Amendment was becoming a “suicide pact.” He’s right. So, too, was Vice President Kamala Harris, when she journeyed to Monterey Park and called on Congress to enact an assault weapons ban.
But the current Supreme Court and the current GOP-majority House of Representatives—despite all their balderdash about being in favor of the right to life—are about as likely to tolerate even the most minimal of gun control laws as they are to, say, support sweeping voting rights legislation or efforts to make it easier for workplaces to unionize.
Pro-gun extremists wasted no time in exploiting the latest wave of killings. Many immediately took to the airwaves to mock California and gun control advocates for daring to think that limiting certain kinds of gun ownership might actually save lives. But the arguments were entirely mendacious. In fact, despite the recent wave of mass shootings, according to the CDC, California has the seventh-lowest gun death rate in the country, with 8.5 deaths per 100,000 residents. Compare with Texas, which has 14.2 gun deaths per 100,000; or Mississippi, which has an extraordinary 28.6 gun deaths per 100,000; or Alabama, which has 23.6; or Louisiana, which has 26.3. In fact, pretty much every state that proclaims the sanctity of human life when it comes to abortion has such an absence of even the most rudimentary gun control laws that it willingly sacrifices thousands of lives per year to gun violence, and accepts that thousands of others will be permanently maimed by shooters and condemned to live in pain and disability for the rest of their lives.
California’s gun control laws do work to limit the number of gun deaths each year, but even such a powerful state can’t do this particular lift on its own. California’s efforts to curb the presence of weapons of war on its streets don’t stop all acts of mass violence not because the laws are inherently flawed but because so much of the rest of the country has political leadership, backed up by conservative judges, that idolizes gun ownership and makes it ludicrously easy for anybody—including disgruntled, angry, violent, perhaps mentally ill Californians—to go into gun stores and purchase battlefield-grade weaponry that they can then bring back to their home communities to wreak bloody mayhem.
In 1971, the Uruguayan writer and voice of conscience Eduardo Galeano published Open Veins of Latin America, in which he detailed centuries of exploitation and bloodshed by a ruthless elite that gave not a fig for the lives destroyed under their rule. What would Galeano, who died in 2015, have made of this current moment in the United States? What would he have written about a society of staggering wealth and resources whose political and judicial elites have not only turned a blind eye to the vast violence meted out on their streets but are now deifying and amplifying a gun culture guaranteed to make that violence worse?
What will the Galeanos of the future say about our current moment, when “pro-life” politicians propose draconian prison sentences for doctors who terminate a desperate woman’s pregnancy, but allow would-be mass killers to arm themselves to the teeth without so much as a background check, a waiting period, or a licensing requirement? What will religious scholars hundreds of years from now say about those who preach, in God’s name, against the right to privacy, against the right to sexual choice, against the right to reproductive freedom, but for the sacred and nonnegotiable right to purchase weapons designed solely to speed up the process of mass slaughter?
Somehow, from here in California, after a week of mass shootings, the word “hypocrisy” seems deeply inadequate to describe the gun-toting, gun-worshiping politicians and judges whose inaction on basic gun control measures is responsible for so much carnage. These shootings, so ghastly yet so commonplace, are America’s mark of shame. We say we are exceptional. How entirely right we are, at least when it comes to mass shootings. No other Western democracy has such a crazy relationship to weapons, and—no surprise—no other Western democracy has one mass shooting after another after another after another. This isn’t rocket science. Inaction, when it comes to gun control, is, quite simply, a down payment on further acts of entirely senseless, entirely preventable acts of wholesale destruction.