May 26, 2021

A lone gunman killed eight Santa Clara County employees, injured others, then took his own life Wednesday morning inside the Valley Transportation Authority control center in San Jose, California. The shooter was a VTA employee, according to Santa Clara County Deputy Russell Davis.

Police say they didn’t fire their weapons. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s office said a bomb detection dog also detected “explosive materials” at the scene.

There is a sameness to this, “Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “There is a sameness to this, a numbness that we are all feeling,” he said. “It begs the question, what the hell is going on in the United States of America and what is going on with us?” Newsom wondered out loud when the country would be “ready to do something” about gun violence.

The San Jose shooting adds to a deadly weekend. From Friday to Monday, mass shootings killed 11 people and injured another 69 others, according to the Gun Violence Archive, local media and police reports.

The weekend shootings took place across eight states — Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Indiana, South Carolina, Virginia, Texas and Minnesota, and now California.

So far in 2021, there have been about 7,700 gun deaths in the United States, not including suicides. That is a 20% increase from a year ago and a 40% increase from 2019, pre-pandemic. There have been at least 231 mass shootings in the U.S. already this year.

Remember, gun deaths are the leading way people take their own lives. At least 9,636 people have died by suicide involving guns in America this year.

(Gun Violence Archive)

(Gun Violence Archive)

Looking for blame, slow to find solutions

In this Sept. 25, 2019, file photo, David Chipman speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons on Capitol Hill in Washington. The Biden administration nominated Chipman to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Rep. Ro Khanna, who represents San Jose in Congress, told CNN that he will be working to pass legislation to control gun violence without saying what that might include.

President Joe Biden has said gun violence is an epidemic and has named it as a priority, among many that are competing for congressional attention. There are a limited number of ways a president, on his or her own, can do much. Biden is focusing on a couple of key areas right away, including ghost guns, which are untraceable firearms assembled from kits. And Biden said states should push “red-flag laws” that allow courts and local law enforcement to remove guns from people deemed a risk to communities.

The San Jose shooting happened just as President Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was answering questions about gun violence and gun control. Nominee David Chipman, a two-decade veteran of the ATF, currently serves as an adviser to major gun control groups, including the Brady and Giffords groups.

Chipman said ghost guns are a significant issue in America. They do not have serial numbers on them, which makes them impossible to trace. Some gun advocates say that requiring every gun to bear a serial number would lead to a national gun registry, but Chipman said he believes that such a national registry is not currently legal. The Guardian put some context around the issue:

When the president announced executive actions targeting gun violence after the mass shootings in Georgia, California and Colorado, they included steps to regulate the sale of the devices — the first time the federal government took up such efforts.

Warnings about do-it-yourself guns have steadily grown in recent years, spurred by ominous news stories describing the weapons’ use in a slew of mass shootings, domestic terrorism cases and gun trafficking busts. In California alone, homemade guns were used in a 2013 mass shooting in Santa Monica, a 2014 bank robbery in Stockton and a shooting spree in rural Tehama county that killed six in 2017. In 2019, a 16-year-old killed two students and injured three others before killing himself with a ghost gun at a school in Santa Clarita. The next year, as protests over police violence filled city streets, Steven Carrillo used a homemade machine gun to shoot two security guards at a federal building in Oakland and a sheriff’s deputy in an ambush in Santa Cruz.

But as the role of ghost guns in high profile criminal cases has grown, community violence reduction workers warn of the less visible toll ghost guns are taking: ghost guns, they say, have become a hot commodity in many vulnerable communities, a trend that has only intensified during the pandemic.

Chipman advocates for an “assault weapons” ban. He said one definition of that is “any semi-automatic rifle capable of accepting a detachable magazine above .22 caliber ammo.” Some senators responded that “assault weapon” is a phrase that is used to scare people and sent a clear message that there would be a battle over banning what gun advocates call “modern sporting rifles.”

Chipman told the senators that he is a gun owner and said he recognizes that the Second Amendment affords and protects legal gun ownership. He also said he believes the U.S. Supreme Court decided “rightly” when it ruled in the Heller case, which confirmed a person’s right to own a gun in their home.

Regarding guns and schools, Chipman told senators that “there are better ways to secure schools” than to have armed guards and police in hallways. Rather, he said, it is more effective to do more to keep guns out of schools. “I am more a believer of hardening targets so guns could not get into schools,” he said. He said he supports schools considering metal detectors.

The Washington Post reported:

On Tuesday, 20 Republican state attorneys general sent a letter to the committee accusing Mr. Chipman of being “hostile to our rights and way of life,” and calling for lawmakers to reject his nomination.

On Wednesday, several major policing organizations expressed support for his nomination in the hours leading up to the hearing, in a series of endorsement letters from the National Black Police Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, and Women in Federal Law Enforcement.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has blamed her city’s gun violence on judges who let criminals “cycle through” the justice system. The implication was that people who bond out of jail were committing new crimes. But WBEZ radio pointed out that people on bond, who are awaiting hearings and trials, are rarely involved in gun crimes:

About 10 days later, then-Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Susan Lee emailed some of her colleagues, alerting them that a group of other public officials had taken issue with the mayor and superintendent “attributing violence to the people bonding out” of jail, referring to the process in which people accused of crimes can pay money to be released from jail if a judge finds they would not be a threat to public safety.

Lee noted that the group had data showing that “very few folks who bond out actually commit violent offenses with a gun.”

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