Special Briefing: The California Mass Shootings Dossier

Police vehicles arrive on the scene of the investigation following a deadly shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, 80 miles south of San Francisco, California on July 28, 2019. - Three people were killed and at least 15 others injured in a shooting at a major food festival in California on Sunday, police said. Officers confronted and shot dead the suspect "in less than a minute," said Scot Smithee, police chief of the city of Gilroy, 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of San Jose.

Source Philip Pacheco / AFP / Getty

Why you should care

The Golden State has America’s toughest gun laws, but it also has the most mass shootings.

This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images, and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.

WHAT TO KNOW:

What’s Happening:  A gunman shot three people dead and injured at least 12 others Sunday at a popular food festival in Gilroy, a town in Northern California 30 miles from San Jose. It’s the fourth mass shooting — with at least three fatalities — in the U.S. this year, and the seventh in California since 2014 (excluding family or gang violence). No other state has had more than four mass shootings (Texas) in this period. The gunman, 19-year-old Santino William Legan, from Gilroy, was shot dead on the spot by police, who are searching for a possible accomplice. In an Instagram post hours before the shooting, Legan had asked people to read Might Is Right, a book by Ragnar Redbeard published in 1890 that advocates White supremacy.

Why Does It Matter? The shooting is likely to inject fresh urgency into the national debate around gun laws, race and immigration two days before Democratic presidential candidates square off for their second set of debates. But even though Legan purchased his gun in Nevada, California’s broader track record raises questions about the limitations of gun control laws. The state has the toughest restrictions on gun ownership in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center, a think tank that works on policy aimed at curtailing gun violence. Yet most mass shootings in California have been carried out using guns purchased in the state. Does the failure to stop mass shootings then lend weight to the argument of pro-gun activists who insist that the problem isn’t with guns, but with the people who use them?   

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Gilroy shooter Santino William Legan’s Instagram profile photo.

Source MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty

HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT:

Global pattern. While the police haven’t announced what they believe motivated Legan, the shooting is the latest in a growing stream of attacks carried out by White individuals who have publicly demonstrated hate based on race or ethnicity. Legan had ranted against “mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats” in one of his final posts on Instagram. In April, a man with links to White supremacist groups shot dead 50 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. That same month, three African American churches in Louisiana were set on fire, and a suspect has been charged with hate crimes.  

California conundrum. In 2016, California became the first state to require point-of-sale background checks on ammunition purchases. Last year, it raised the minimum age for purchasing long guns from 18 to 21 years. But while California has the seventh-lowest rate of overall gun deaths, the impact of its laws on mass shootings is less clear. The state has been home to 16 percent of the nation’s mass shootings in the past five years — while it hosts 11 percent of the population. More than 97 percent of mass shootings nationally have occurred in so-called “gun-free zones” such as schools, markets, clubs and festivals, where shooters know they’ll be met with little resistance from people who also have guns. Allowing more people — not fewer — to own firearms is the answer, argue pro-gun groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition.

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A man enters a gun store in Los Angeles, California.

Tighter control? Gun-regulation advocates don’t agree that California’s laws are the problem. In fact, the Gilroy shooting, they say, points to weaknesses in regulations elsewhere — with interstate gun purchases. It’s easier to buy a long gun of the kind Legan used across state lines than it is to purchase a handgun. “We need to enact effective state law protections in more states and to do so more comprehensively at the national level,” says Ari Freilich, staff attorney at the Giffords Law Center. The center also advocates for more violence intervention programs, restricted bulk firearm purchases and regulation of “ghost gun” component sales.

Untraceable. So-called “ghost guns” — which don’t have serial numbers — are a growing problem in California. Often they’ve been 3-D printed or assembled from parts, a popular way of getting around background check laws. These guns constitute 30 percent of all firearms recovered in California, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. They’re seen as a way for those who couldn’t pass a background check to get around the state’s relatively restrictive gun laws. They’re often bought and sold through online chat rooms. 

WHAT TO READ:

Gilroy grieves after gunman kills three young people at California garlic festival, by Lois Beckett, Vivian Ho and Adam Gabbatt in The Guardian

“Gun rights people say if you have more guns, there’ll be less violence. There were plenty of police present at the festival, and that didn’t prevent the violence.”

Eliminating gun-free zones: A way to deter mass shooters? by George Parry in The Philadelphia Inquirer 

“Anyone concerned with eliminating — or at least substantially reducing — mass public shootings must ask whether or not gun-free zones pose a danger to the public by attracting killers who prefer an unarmed victim pool.”

WHAT TO WATCH: 

Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting: Police Chief Scot Smithee takes questions on the investigation

“There absolutely would have been more bloodshed, I believe … I think it’s very, very fortunate they [cops] were able to engage him as quickly as they did.”

Watch on San Jose Mercury News on YouTube:

Eyewitness Recounts Deadly Shooting Targeting Gilroy Garlic Festival in California

“I saw my peers go down and we all started running.”

Watch on Bloomberg TicToc on YouTube:

WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER: 

Advocates seeking more restrictions on access to firearms often cite mass shootings as evidence to back their arguments. But in a study published in February, Tufts University researchers found that with every new mass shooting, public opinion actually polarizes more than before, making any consensus even harder.

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