Opinion: Monterey Park shooting is horrific, but all too familiar

Members of the media are stationed in a parking lot outside Star Dance Studio in Monterey Park, Calif., Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Authorities searched for a motive for the gunman who killed 10 people at the ballroom dance club during Lunar New Year celebrations, slayings that sent a wave of fear through Asian American communities and cast a shadow over festivities nationwide. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

"Who walks into a dance hall and guns down 20 people?" Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna asked, hours after 11 people were shot dead and at least 9 more were wounded Saturday night in Monterey Park.

Millions ask the same kind of question after what has become a sickeningly frequent occurrence in America. The slaughter amid Lunar New Year festivities was the fifth mass murder shooting in the U.S. in 2023, which is barely three weeks old. Who did this?

At a Sunday evening news conference, Luna said a suspect named Huu Can Tran was found dead in a van of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A magazine-fed assault pistol was recovered.

In coming days, more details will doubtless emerge about the suspect and victims of this heinous crime.

But beyond this latest horrific shooting and its particular perpetrator, driven by unique, unfathomable motives, is there a pattern we can discern?

No single answer covers all mass killings. Past perpetrators have included the psychotic, domestic abusers, bigots, conspiracy theorists, holders of personal grudges and international terrorists. They are sometimes young, sometimes in their prime, sometimes elderly. They do their cruel, murderous work at dance halls, elementary schools, universities, movie theaters, concerts, grocery stores, houses of worship, parades.

There is no common profile of the killers, but they have one thing in common: They have guns.

And in one way or another, we hand them their weapons. The United States is the only society with such a powerful gun lobby. That lobby and the manufacturers who profit from the sale of millions of weapons systematically injected right-wing politics with an ideology that equates gun proliferation with liberty, and even modest, commonsense controls with government oppression.

The results include a Congress that for years blocked tabulation of data establishing the reverse link between gun possession and safety, and a Supreme Court that interprets language describing well-regulated militias -- drafted when single-fire, muzzle-loaded muskets were the norm -- as a constitutional right to acquire weapons, load them and carry them inside any of the places that have been forever scarred by multiple killings.

The gun lobby's evil genius is so profound that it has convinced millions of Americans that the only way to defend themselves against all the violence perpetrated by a populace with too many guns is to acquire more guns. And the only way to live with this odd version of freedom is to ensure that every school, store, church and party could at any moment become shooting galleries.

But national suicide is not the compulsory price of freedom. Second Amendment rights are no further beyond rational limitations than First Amendment rights. Our system protects Americans from injury and death, for example, by limiting a person's "right" to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theater. It also could protect us -- if we insisted on it -- from those who would fire a gun in that same theater. Or at a festival in Gilroy, a bar in Thousand Oaks, a holiday party in San Bernardino or a synagogue in San Diego County.

Or a dance studio in Monterey Park.

The Los Angeles Times