The Incalculable Costs of California’s Mass Shootings

My closest confrontation with gun gunfire came at the end of what started out a normal workday. Decades back when my seventeen years of teaching middle school left me feeling that the word I said most often was “no” – with my own kids at home and with the middle schoolers at work, — I drove one afternoon from my job at Adams Middle School that was just south of downtown Los Angeles to Jefferson High School in South Central. I had an afterschool interview with a Jefferson administrator about a possible transfer to their campus. The atmosphere on Central Avenue that day included the typical L.A. weather that hinders deep thought – the clear blue skies, the glaring sunlight that bounces off cars’ rear windshields and back bumpers – the weather that inspires you to come outside, get out of the house; but once you are out, you’re greeted by the pay-to-play society that is America.

As I drove near the school parking lot towards the dismissal chaos that happens once a school bell rings at the end of the day, gunshots rang out in front of me from the left side of the street. Students scattered. School staff on supervision ducked down. I noticed a young person on the right side of the street who appeared to have been shot being pulled into a black car. Like other cars nearby, I made a U-turn on the tight residential street and headed in the opposite direction. I drove away from the chaos of that afternoon.

Fast forward to contemporary California – the state with the nation’s strictest gun laws — and the string of mass shootings that have occurred in January 2023.[i] One of the first was in the City of Monterey Park in San Gabriel Valley – not San Fernando, but the other valley; the valley popular media chooses to forget. A working-class region – San Gabriel Valley lacks the media chic of an adjacent Calabasas; and, geographically, instead of leading to the lush vegetation surrounding cities near Santa Barbara, it drifts into the dryness of Palm Springs. At a dance studio he frequented in the Chinatown area of Monterey Park, 72-year-old, Huu Can Tran, murdered eleven people – My My Nhan, Lilian Li, Xiujuan Yu, Muoi Dai Ung, Hongying Jian, Yu Lun Kao, Chia Ling Yau, Valentino Marcos Alvero, Wen Tau Yu, Ming Wei Ma, and Diana Man Ling Tom – ages 57-72. He also injured nine others. It was January 21, the eve of the Chinese Lunar New Year. Following the shooting, Tran shot and killed himself during a standoff with police in the city of Torrance.

Next, on January 23 in the northern California city of Half Moon Bay, sixty-six-year-old Chunli Zhao, a farmworker, shot and killed seven of his co-workers – Marciano Martinez Jimenez, Jose Romero Perez, Aixiang Zhang, Zhishen Liu, Qizhong Cheng, Jingzhi Lu, and Yetao Bing – ages 43-74. He also wounded one other person. It appears the shooter was upset because his supervisor requested he pay one hundred dollars for damage to a forklift.[ii] Zhao later drove to a police station where he was taken into custody.

On that same day in Oakland, 18-year-old Mario Navarro was killed and four people injured while filming a music video. The shooter has not been apprehended.

Then, on January 28 in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Beverly Crest,[iii] adjacent to Beverly Hills, Nenah Davis, Destiny Sims, and Iyana Hutton, ages 26-33, were killed and four others wounded outside a party being held at a home being used as a short-term rental.

In a country where guns outnumber people, the US is averaging six hundred mass shootings per year. That’s more than the human mind and human emotions can keep up with. The pace dehumanizes not just the dead, but the living. The 338 million people who make up the U.S. own more than 400 million guns.[iv] That’s domestic gun ownership – sans cops and military. We are five percent of the world’s population, and we own forty-two percent of the world’s guns.[v] We may not be ready to end world hunger, stop climate change, or spread democracy across the globe. But we are ready to kill. Each other. Unfortunately, at a certain point the mass shootings stop being a shock in a society in which we are adversaries of ourselves. Everyone is a potential threat, a lurking enemy.

I may have tired of saying “no” to middle schoolers and my own kids, but where is the “no” to corporate gun trafficking in the U.S.? How are parents supposed to discipline youth on the topic of gun ownership within the capitalist anarchy of our society? Ours is a society that doesn’t say “no” to indulgence – especially not the indulgence of guns.

Back in time, at the shooting that occurred before my job interview, I circled the blocks adjacent to the high school a few times. Holding the steering wheel with both hands, I took a few deep breaths and drove back to the school to see if the perimeter appeared safe. I passed by. I then made a big loop around the campus by driving a few more blocks before finally entering the school parking lot to go to the interview. Sitting at a desk with the administrator, we discussed the shooting and then our conversation shifted to facts about the school.

When I finally transferred to a high school, it wasn’t Jefferson. I chose another location, but I did teach a Saturday enrichment program on their campus some months after the shooting. I was never afraid to be amongst the students there. We read, wrote, conversed. And like high school youth in many cities across the U.S. who are filled with expectations about their future lives, they eventually applied for college.

[i] Beckett, Lois and Levin, Sam. “Eight Days, and 25 dead: California Shaken by string of mass shootings.” The Guardian. 25 Jan 2023.

[ii] Turner, Austin. “Half Moon Bay: DA confirms report that shooter was triggered by $100 equipment bill.” Santa Cruz Sentinel. 27 Jan 2023.

[iii] Associated Press. “Police say three dead, four hurt in latest California shooting.” The Guardian. 28 Jan 2023.

[iv] Horsey, David. “More than 400 million guns, from sea to shining sea.” The Seattle Times.” 20 May 2022.

[v] Harrison, Pricey. “The U.S. has approximately 5% of the world’s population and 42% of civilian gun ownership.” PolitiFact. 15 February 2018

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