Shootings Spark Grief, Anger

State Sen. Anthony Portantino, shown at a June event in South Pasadena, was one of numerous local officials to express horror and anger this week in the wake of the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. File Photo

Local officials expressed grief, anger and frustration this week following the recent mass shootings in Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that left a combined 34 dead and scores more wounded.

From city officials in South Pasadena to state legislators to county law-enforcement, there also was a recurrent call for new, national-level gun-control laws, particularly in regard to assault weapons and background checks, as well as, from some sectors, criticism of President Trump for what was seen as incendiary rhetoric.

The El Paso shooting, at least, is linked to extremism, as the alleged shooter had posted on line an anti-immigrant manifesto. Federal officials are weighing adding hate-crime charges. Other extremist connections are still being investigated on the state and federal levels.

For his part, Trump on Monday condemned bigotry and white supremacy, while pinning blame for the shootings on mental-health issues more so than on lax gun control.

“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy,” Trump said. “Hatred warps the mind, ravages the heart and devours the soul.”

The president also said: “Mental illness and hatred pull the trigger. Not the gun.’’

But local officials interviewed by the Review disagreed, with several blaming lax federal gun-control laws and Republican failures to pass stronger anti-gun legislation. Currently, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is holding up such legislation in the Senate.

“As a dad, I’m horrified. As a citizen of this country, I’m angry. As a legislator, Washington’s impotence has been striking and it’s costing lives,’’ said state Sen. Anthony Portantino, whose district includes South Pas – and who is one of Sacramento’s leading advocates of gun-control laws.

“Ninety percent of America supports background checks,’’ added Portantino, who shepherded a bill to raise the legal gun-purchase age in California to 21 into law, and who has three other gun-related bills currently pending in the legislature.

“They (the majority of Americans) support a ban on assault weapons, they support reasonable gun control,’’ he said. “And the fact that Mitch McConnell and the NRA (National Rifle Association) have the issue held captive is unconscionable and horrific.’’

Portantino also scoffed at Trump pinning blame on mental-health issues.

“The data shows that that is not the case,’’ he said. “Other countries have mental-health issues – they don’t have mass shootings. That’s a red herring in this. He (Trump) is just lying, frankly. When you factor in all the similarities we have with other industrialized nations, the one thing that we don’t have in common with them is … the massive amounts of guns available to the general.

“It’s time for partisans to truly become patriots,’’ he added, “because patriots don’t stand by and look the other way when children get shot because weapons fall into the wrong hands and weapons are available to people to mass shoot the way these high-capacity weapons are built. The only things these weapons are built for is to kill people, and they should not be in the hands of average citizens to do mayhem and harm.’’

Assemblymember Chris Holden echoed those thoughts.

“Our hearts are broken once again, and again and again to the senseless gun violence from mass shootings in America,’’ Holden said in a statement to the Review. “These acts of domestic terrorism rip at the fabric of every neighborhood in this country. The time is now to demand that Congress and the President take action once and for all.”

South Pasadena Mayor Marina Khubesrian, grieving the recent carnage as “unfathomable,” also ripped into Trump, gun manufacturers and the gun lobby.

“(Trump’s) language, his lack of decency and basic humanity have emboldened those with hateful agendas to dehumanize people who don’t look like, pray like, love like they do,’’ Khubesrian said.

She also said, “The gun laws in this county are written to maximize the sale of guns and the profits of gun manufacturers. The Second Amendment does not prohibit regulation of who may purchase guns, how we permit and license the use/sale of guns, and what type of weapons and magazines are sold to civilians.

“We need to demand that our lawmakers put peoples’ lives, safety and health ahead of anything else.’’

Khubesrian’s fellow City Council member, Diana Mahmud, said, “Unfortunately it is far too easy for disaffected individuals to have access to highly lethal firearms that can kill a number of people quickly.’’

But she also pointed to so-called “red flag” laws in California that allow guns to be taken from individuals who are deemed a danger, and urged residents to be aware of such laws.

“California law allows someone who is perceived to be a danger to themselves or others to be held involuntarily on a 72-hour hold, and a ‘red flag’ law is also in effect which allows someone who is thought to be a threat to themselves or others to have their weapons taken away until they are no longer believed to be a threat,’’ Mahmud said.

“If our residents believe they know of someone to which the above would apply they should immediately contact the law enforcement jurisdiction in which that person lives.’’

Ultimately, Mahmud said, greater safety is in the hands of federal officials.

“I am pessimistic we can make much if any progress in stemming these tragic gun violence events until Congress enacts comprehensive background check legislation and prohibits purchase of assault weapons,’’ she said.

Rep. Judy Chu (D-27th), meanwhile, decried “how little progress we have made in addressing the gun violence epidemic.’’

“The House passed common sense gun reforms six months ago, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to allow a vote on it,’’ Chu said. “Americans deserve better than this. I urge Mitch McConnell to call the Senate back into session and act now before more lives are lost.

“And in the case of the El Paso shooting, Congress must counter the disturbing rhetoric that is fueling white nationalism in our country, which puts minority communities and many others in danger.”

In an email to the Review, Councilmember Bob Joe said, “We in South Pasadena offer our prayers, our hearts and hope to the cities of Dayton and El Paso. Our City and other public agencies must be vigilant, aware and alert. It is so important for a community to be resilient.’’

While South Pasadena Police Chief Joe Ortiz did not delve into the political waters when asked for his comments – he chose instead to focus on what people in the path of a mass shooter should do (see separate story, Police Chief Talks Training, Preparedness, Survival) – other area law-enforcement officials did call for more federal intervention.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said the federal assault-weapon ban, which expired some 10 years ago, must be restored.

“The ability for people across this country to have ready access to military-grade weaponry that has the ability to afflict mass casualties is far too great,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times.

“I understand our origins and upbringing as to gun rights and access to weapons, but we have to look at what that is costing us.”

For his part, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted shortly after the El Paso and Dayton shootings this past weekend, “Spare me the ‘now is not the time’ lecture — at the current pace there never will be time to prevent the next one.’’

In a subsequent tweet, he added: “It’s time to end the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, period.’’