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As Asian Americans Reel After Mass Shootings in California, Will Congress Take Any Action on Guns?

Written by on 24/01/2023

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in California, which is reeling after three mass shootings in three days. On Monday, a gunman shot dead seven people in Half Moon Bay, a seaside town located about 30 miles south of San Francisco. The gunman targeted a mushroom farm and a nearby trucking facility. The vice mayor of Half Moon Bay said the victims included Chinese and Latinx farmworkers. Police arrested 67-year-old Zhao Chunli after they found him in his car outside a sheriff’s substation. He reportedly worked at the mushroom farm for decades, killing his co-workers. San Mateo County Board of Supervisor Dave Pine spoke Monday.

DAVE PINE: We grieve tonight for the deceased members of our community. This is a horrific event, one that we would never imagine would occur in San Mateo County. Gun violence in this country is at completely unacceptable levels. It’s really hit home tonight. Our hearts are broken. We are deeply grateful for law enforcement for their work this evening. But in the end, there are simply too many guns in this country, and there has to be a change. This is not an acceptable way for modern society to live and conduct its affairs.

AMY GOODMAN: The shooting in Half Moon Bay comes a day after a gunman in Southern California opened fire inside a ballroom dance studio after a Lunar New Year celebration in the largely Asian American city of Monterey Park, east of Los Angeles. The death toll in that shooting is now 11.

The gunman fled the scene. It took local police five hours to warn he was on the run. During that period, he attempted to attack another ballroom dance studio but fled after being confronted by a young man in the lobby. The suspected gunman, 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, fatally shot himself Sunday as a SWAT team approached his van.

The group Stop AAPI Hate said in a statement, “Our community has faced so much tragedy and trauma over the last several years. While the details are still developing, we do know that the shooter’s access to guns turned this into a massacre,” they said.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, California, at least one person was killed and another seven injured in a shootout at a gas station just after 6 p.m. Monday night.

There have also been several other mass shootings across the country in the last few days. In Des Moines, Iowa, an 18-year-old has been charged with murder after fatally shooting two students at a center for struggling high school students. A teacher was also injured in that shooting. And in Chicago, two died and three people were injured in a shooting at an apartment Saturday. And in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 12 people were injured early Sunday in a nightclub shooting.

Earlier today, President Biden released a statement on the shooting in Half Moon Bay and repeated his call for Congress to pass an assault weapons ban.

We’re joined right now by two guests. Nick Suplina is managing director for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. In Oakland, California, we’re joined by Dr. Connie Wun, co-founder of the AAPI Women Lead organization and a researcher on race and gender violence.

Dr. Wun, it is horrible to go back to you, because we last had you on after other killings. But can you talk about the experience this weekend, one after another mass killings? It is so painful to even ask you about it. Where were you when you heard about the Lunar New Year massacre?

CONNIE WUN: Good morning, Amy. Thank you for having me.

It is actually really, really painful. I was — actually, I woke up and — around 11:50 p.m. Pacific Standard Time to do my Lunar New Year prayers. I did my prayers, and I went on the internet to wish everyone a happy new year. And the first thing I saw was reports of shooting deaths in the mass shootings in Monterey Park. So, it was absolutely devastating. And I was up for a couple of hours. And in our cultures, whatever happens at midnight and on that day will be what is to take place for the rest of the year.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Dr. Wun, could you talk about the place where it happened, Monterey Park, a majority-Asian population, the first city in the country to have a majority-Asian population? The significance of that city for the Asian community?

CONNIE WUN: Absolutely. You know, I’ve been learning a lot from my colleagues who are with the Asian American Journalists Association, Asian American studies. You know, a lot of what we have been saying around Monterey Park is it is a 65% Asian, Asian American city that was an ethnic enclave for so many of our communities — Chinese, Chinese immigrants, Chinese Americans, Southeast Asians. And it was a place where people thrive. It’s a home to so many of our community members. And I think it’s important to note that one of the main reasons that Monterey Park was formed was in response to — and, I would say, against — kind of the United States’ history of marginalization and xenophobia against Asian and Asian Americans. And while the city is a thriving city for generations, it was in response to the racism of the U.S.’s history.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And the news that the assailant who perpetrated this horrific crime was a Vietnamese immigrant? Could you — supposedly, police believe that it may have been related to grievances he held about particular individuals. Your response to hearing that this was an attack on the Asian community by another Southeast Asian?

CONNIE WUN: I thank you for that question, Juan. I think, you know, I’ve been saying this for a number of years. The violence against Asians and Asian Americans is multilayered, and it extends far beyond the discourses of hate or even hate crimes. The violence against us has been historical. And I think that it’s really important that we also begin — mainstream America, in particular — begin to really have an intersectional analysis of racial and gender violence, and in particular, I want to say, racial and patriarchal violence, right? Because I think, you know, reports have said that Mr. Tran is — or, he had a history of being angry, that there may be some relationship to interpersonal violence, perhaps gender-based violence. And I think, you know, survivors of and victims of patriarchal violence are across the gender spectrum. And I think that’s important, because we don’t talk enough, painfully, about patriarchal violence within our communities. And by “our communities,” I mean across racial communities. I think the United States, and globally, has a long-standing history of femicide and of harming people based upon patriarchal violence.

Another thing I really want to talk about is, violence is about isolating, isolation and marginalization. And I mentioned earlier that, you know, Monterey Park is a suburb, an ethnic enclave. I want to also highlight that Half Moon Bay, when we’re talking about Chinese farmers, people only know Half Moon Bay as a beach, as a place for surfing. We don’t talk about the isolated, marginalized Chinese farmworkers or Latinx farmworkers, or even the Latino who was also killed in Monterey Park, right? We’re not talking about the ways that communities of color are isolated, even if we have thriving communities. And when we’re in isolation, we are most vulnerable to other forms of violence, including the forms that you all are talking about. And as someone who’s here in Oakland, you know, the violence against our communities are barely addressed. And I think that is also indicative and symptomatic of a U.S. culture that isolates communities of color and does not provide us resources or care, let alone have nuanced understandings of our communities.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a California Congressmember Judy Chu, who called for greater gun safety measures in the wake of the Monterey shooting. She represents California’s 28th District, home to Monterey Park, where that first attack took place this weekend. It is hard to say first attack, second attack, third gun shootings, mass shootings. But this is Congressmember Chu.

REP. JUDY CHU: I could not believe the extent of the violence, 10 people dead. This was one of the worst mass shootings in L.A. County and one of the worst in the nation. And I was also outraged because there are far too many of these mass shootings going on. We have to take actions to make sure that people are safe in America. I have joined the gun safety caucus in Congress, and we have worked on legislation that should have passed a long time ago, such as on the universal background checks, which have proven to take guns out of dangerous people’s hands. I want to say to those who are resistant to these gun safety laws: Protect America. Protect your fellow neighbors.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is California Senator Alex Padilla also urging stronger gun control laws.

SEN. ALEX PADILLA: We do take it as a reminder of the urgency with which we need to strengthen our gun safety laws across the country. Many of my colleagues have pointed out: Doesn’t California have some of the strictest laws and protections of any state in the nation? That is true. And they have worked, and it is helpful. But when there’s a patchwork of laws and protections to various degrees across states, then, clearly, there are vulnerabilities that can impact any community in the country. And so, for the individuals in the community here in Monterey Park, throughout the region and throughout the country, that are living in more fear today because of what’s been witnessed, this is a reminder that more needs to be done.

AMY GOODMAN: In addition to Dr. Connie Wun, we are joined by Nick Suplina. He is managing director for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. Nick, when they were looking for the Monterey gunman, hour after hour, certainly there were bullet shell casings, because he had massacred 10 people. Eleven have since died. One succumbed to their injuries. If there was a federal database, they could have gone right to it and found the person who owned the gun? Not clear if that would have been the murderer, but that’s a very good start. But there is no federal database. And then you have President Biden calling for an assault weapons ban. The Democrats have been in charge, until now, of both the Senate and the House. Can you talk about the lack of gun control in this country and how alone the United States is in the industrialized world in the number of mass shootings there are?

NICK SUPLINA: Yeah, well, thanks for that. I feel like as we’re grieving across California and across the country, we have to look at the fact that we’ve come to almost expect these types of mass shootings. But we cannot accept them, because we are alone in the developed world to facing gun violence levels like we do in America. And it’s not freedom. It’s not safety. And we have to do so much more.

We have to do it at the federal level. We need Congress to act. We need bipartisan action in Congress. We saw some of that last summer, and it was a good start, but there is so much more to do at the federal level, because, you know, as was noted, we are only as safe as the closest state with the weakest laws in this country. The patchwork of laws among our states simply does not do. States with strong gun laws — we’ve studied it — do in fact have lower rates of gun violence, lower rates of mass shootings, too. But that’s not going to cut it when you can just cross a state border and find firearms that are prohibited, like the gun used in Monterey Park, which was banned in California and illegal in several different ways.

But one area that I really want to focus on, that is so often not part of the conversation, is the gun industry that is making money off of selling increasingly dangerous firearms to just about anybody who can get their hands on them, a gun industry that’s more than willing to sell dangerous firearms into neighboring states, knowing where they’re going to end up, knowing sometimes that they’ll end up in crime scenes across the country. You know, over a recent five-year period, over 1.4 million guns were recovered by law enforcement in crimes. There are manufacturers who are making these guns, sellers who are selling these guns, and they have decided to bury their head in the sand instead of addressing the problem. I really think if we’re going to have a national conversation around gun violence and what we can do to prevent it, we have to talk about the industry’s role in this carnage.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Nick Suplina, just a few days before the mass shooting in Monterey Park, one of the largest gun shows in the country was occurring in neighboring Nevada, in Las Vegas, the SHOT Show. Could you talk about the significance of this conference and the student activism that occurred for the first time to raise awareness? And given the failure of Congress to enact meaningful gun reform legislation, is it becoming increasingly necessary for people to begin protesting directly these gun shows and confronting the gun lobby?

NICK SUPLINA: Well, I think so. I think so, because the gun manufacturers and sellers are the proverbial man behind the curtain. They are the ones that are profiting off of an American public health crisis. And unless we protest, unless we call attention to this industry, they’re going to continue to hide and continue to, you know, benefit from a national conversation that’s just about gun safety versus gun rights.

But let me tell you what happened at SHOT Show. SHOT Show is the annual convention of the gun industry, literally miles of aisles of firearms, including ones like the one used in Monterey Park, but, really, honestly, more modern versions and more deadly versions. You wouldn’t hear in the halls of the convention center there in Las Vegas anything about mass shootings, let alone the mass shooting that occurred in Las Vegas just a little bit up the Strip in Las Vegas. And, you know, the gun industry has decided it’s going to keep these closed events, not open to the public. They’re not going to address their role in gun violence.

And that’s why Students Demand Action, which is a grassroots arm of Everytown, decided the time is come to draw attention to the industry. Students Demand Action protesters were outside the convention center. They had billboards saying a simple fact: Guns are now the leading cause of death of children and teens in America. And these students demanded to be heard. Whether or not the gun industry listens is up to it, but I will tell you these students have the fortitude and the conviction to bring these gun manufacturers and sellers to account so that they can’t hide in the shadows anymore, so that they can’t pretend that this isn’t their problem, that criminals using guns is just an inevitability, when they’re designing guns that are more dangerous, and, quite honestly, not designing guns that could be more safe, right? You know, the Advil bottle in my bag has a childproof top. Why aren’t guns childproof? Why can my phone be protected against theft, but not a firearm? There’s no innovation toward safety. There’s only innovation on guns that shoot faster, can carry more bullets before they expire. Like, the fact is, is that the industry is playing us. We are at this point, you know, basically beholden to their industry profits. They want to keep selling more firearms. We need them to start acting responsibly.

AMY GOODMAN: Nick Suplina, you put out a study — Everytown did — only four firearm manufacturers accounting for over half the guns in this country. Please name the names. And also, not just the gun companies, the NRA is powerful, though it is at its weakest point now, still the lack of gun control. But talk also about the National Shooting Sports Foundation and how it’s outspent the NRA lobbying.

NICK SUPLINA: Yeah, so, the NSSF, which, until recently, was, if you can believe it, based in Newtown, Connecticut, is the industry trade group for the entire gun industry. And they are sort of the better dressed, slightly better behaved version of the NRA. They’re very powerful on the Hill. They are seen as a more responsible, moderate voice. But, in fact, you know, nine times in 10, they are right there with the NRA opposing just about every law you can imagine. Any movement towards gun safety, NSSF is there to lobby against. And, in fact, you know, as you noted, the NSSF is outspending the NRA in lobbying now, especially as the NRA is a bit hobbled by its own corruption scandals and waste.

You know, the fact is that we got about 31 mayors from across the country to pool guns that were recovered by law enforcement in crimes, to the tune of well over 100,000 firearms over a several-year period. And in 2021, Glock alone represented 20% of guns recovered. And again, I just want to spell this out, right? It’s not that Glock is responsible for every crime committed with one of its products, but if you are responsible for 20% of the guns recovered in crimes across 30 populous cities, the biggest cities represented, wouldn’t you want to do something about it as a company? Wouldn’t you want to say, “OK, well, we want to continue selling our product, because many people never use it in a crime and are completely law-abiding, but wouldn’t we want to look and see, I don’t know, whether some of the dealers that our guns are being sold at are looking the other way for straw purchases or selling out the back of the store?” I mean, we know this is happening. ATF has shown that this is happening. But the gun manufacturers claim ignorance or disinterest in knowing what happens to their guns when they leave the factory floor. And that has to change. So it starts with naming them. Thank you for that question. Glock is the leading maker of crime guns in the country, based on our report.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And speaking of naming names, could you also name the names in Congress, in both parties, of those members of Congress who keep resisting commonsense gun control, not just Republicans but also Democrats, as well?

NICK SUPLINA: Yeah, well, you know, it varies issue to issue, but what I will say is this. I think we have in the Congress now an uphill battle. We have, you know, a divided Congress. I think things are changing. And if you’ll indulge me with a little bit of optimism on what is an absolutely awful day of a series of mass shootings across the country and daily gun violence that is too high, we have our foot in the door from the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act legislation from last summer. You know, 15 Republican senators signed on to the bill, for a vote of 65 in the Senate, 100% of Democrats, which did not happen the last time we had a major Senate floor vote back in 2013 on background checks. There were several Democratic defectors.

So, we are strengthening a bipartisan solution, but we are going to need a big bipartisan solution to get anything through the Senate. And nowadays in the House, it is a tall order. Quite honestly, we are going to need to deal with really bad gun laws coming out of this House, including some really, really dangerous proposals that are just — that are going to be the focus of attention, far, far from sensible, wildly popular gun safety legislation. We’re going to be fighting against, you know, rollbacks of existing laws.

AMY GOODMAN: And finally, we’re going to give Dr. Connie Wun the last word. What AAPI Women Lead is calling for in the wake of one massacre after another?

CONNIE WUN: Thanks for that question. There are a couple things that we are calling for. One is a lot more attention to the different forms of violence that Asians and Asian Americans have been experiencing. I think it’s important to remember that you were talking about — at least in the Monterey Park, we’re talking about a Vietnamese refugee immigrant. I want us to think about the legacy of violence and the impacts that the war has had, the War in Vietnam has had, on our migration and what that has meant for our presence here as Vietnamese people in the United States. So, I want us — I want the mainstream and I want people to pay closer attention and to study the nuances of what it means to be Asian and Asian American here, beyond the hate crime discourse, right?

I want us to think a lot about racial — the intersections of racial and patriarchal violence. I think, you know, people — we hadn’t talked about this on this call, but 60% of mass shooters have histories of domestic violence. So that then means that I would like for the mainstream to also pay attention to patriarchal violence in Asian and Asian American communities, because it is a little bit more rampant than, I think, our communities even want to acknowledge. And I think that’s important.

I think the other thing is to continue to support organizations and researchers and scholars who are also talking about the nuances of being Asian and Asian American here, again, beyond a hate crime discourse, but about our legacies of violence, our legacies of resistance, our legacies of struggle, our legacies of working with other communities of color. I think that’s going to be really, really important to really understand what violence means to our communities.

I think the other thing is for people to not commodify and monetize the suffering of our communities. I think that is a big thing that has happened since people started paying attention to the violence against our communities, because, as I noted, you know, about two years ago on this call with you, the violence against us has been ongoing. The War in Vietnam, the wars against Southeast Asia, our imperialism, colonization, that, to me, is also the violence that we’ve experienced, and then the forced immigration here or the migration here, the lack of services here, the fact that we have to create thriving ethnic enclaves but are also isolated. I think people really need to pay attention to why it is we’ve been isolated or why it is we’re marginalized. I think that attention and those nuances are going to be key to our survival. I also think that people really need, again, to not capitalize off of the suffering of our communities, and pay close attention, as I mentioned earlier.

I think the other thing is to center the —

AMY GOODMAN: We have 20 seconds.

CONNIE WUN: Perfect. I think to also center the histories of our communities, especially from women and nonbinary communities, who have been working around ending violence against our communities for a very long time.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Connie Wun, we thank you so much for being with us, co-founder of the AAPI Women Lead organization, a researcher on race and gender violence. And thanks to Nick Suplina, managing director of law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety.

Coming up, The Intercept‘s Jeremy Scahill on the growing probe into President Biden’s mishandling of classified documents, after the FBI searched his home for nearly 13 hours. Stay with us.

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