In California this week, hearts, families, and lives were broken again by two mass shootings in two days. On Saturday evening, January 21, 11 people were killed and nine more were injured at the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park, a community outside Los Angeles known as the first suburban Chinatown. The neighborhood surrounding the ballroom was in the middle of a massive, joyous two-day festival celebrating the Lunar New Year and the arrival of the Year of the Rabbit. At a time when hate crimes have targeted Asian Americans across the country, for many people the Monterey Park community and gathering spaces like the Star Ballroom have long felt like a safe haven. But as we have seen again and again, there are no safe spaces from guns in our nation. Instead, a place of fellowship and celebration that was especially beloved by many older community members turned into another site of tragedy.
Two days later, seven more people were killed and one was critically injured by a coworker at the farms where they worked in Half Moon Bay, a coastal city south of San Francisco. These two mass shootings were immediately unusual because both gunmen were older than 65; the man who killed fellow dancers in Monterey Park was 72, one of the oldest mass shooters in modern American history. But there is no age limit to the way easy access to guns in our nation lethalizes anger and despair. The shooter in Half Moon Bay, who was taken into custody, allegedly told investigators he felt “disrespected” by colleagues. A former tenant of the Monterey Park shooter described him as an isolated person who was “hopeless and desperate.”
These murders in California came just a few days after another mass shooting in the state’s Central Valley that left six people dead, including a 10-month-old baby and his 16-year-old mother. And the tragedies in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay were also far from the only gun attacks in America in those 48 hours. Early Sunday morning a dozen people were injured at a Baton Rouge nightclub that had advertised a party celebrating the start of the new semester at Louisiana State University and Southern University. On Monday, the same day as the Half Moon Bay shootings, an 18-year-old and a 16-year-old were shot and killed at their charter school program for at-risk youths in Iowa and the program’s founder was injured. Soon afterwards Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, singled out those four attacks as examples in a social media post condemning the regular and relentless toll gun violence takes in our nation: “11 dead in Monterey Park. 12 wounded in Baton Rouge. 7 dead in Half Moon Bay. 2 students dead in Des Moines. 300 shot EVERY SINGLE DAY. Every time you vote for a lawmaker who opposes gun safety, you’re voting for policies that make it more likely your loved one will be slaughtered.” Her words were followed by a graphic from Moms Demand Action: We don’t have to live like this. We don’t have to die like this.
Just a few days into the New Year America’s gun violence epidemic is back under a harsh spotlight. The Gun Violence Archive, which documents the number of mass shootings in the U.S. in which four or more people are shot or killed in a single incident, counted 40 mass shootings in the first 25 days of 2023. This was 21 percent higher than in the previous two years and more than any January on record. Seventy-three people were killed and 165 more were injured in those mass shootings alone. Every day on average more than 100 people are killed and more than 200 others are injured by guns in our nation in assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, unintentional shootings, and police intervention. Gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in our nation. This is American exceptionalism at its worst.
Will we continue to let these numbers escalate month after month? Will we continue to stand alone in accepting our pervasive culture of gun violence and the insane proliferation of guns by the millions that have no business in civilian hands? Will we keep electing members of Congress who put their perceived political self-interest and gun lobby profits ahead of the safety of our children and communities? Or will this be the year we finally find the courage, decency, and will to change course?