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California shootings spark renewed gun control debate
November 12,2018   By:China Daily
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US still trying to make sense of past tragedies

Nov. 12, 2018 -- Standing in a parking lot, tears streaming down her face, Susan Orfanos looked straight at the camera, visibly shaken but clearly determined.

"I want gun control and I hope to God nobody else sends me any more prayers. I want gun control. No more guns," the devastated mother told the media.

Her 27-year-old son, Telemachus Orfanos, survived a shooting in Las Vegas in October last year that left 58 dead, but died at the hands of a gunman during a rampage late on Wednesday in Thousand Oaks, a city about 65 kilometers from downtown Los Angeles.

Consistently rated by the FBI as one of the safest cities in the United States, the upscale area joined an array of other places in the nation to be hit by mass shootings.

The latest incident, which came when Ian David Long stormed into the Borderline Bar and Grill and fatally shot 12 people before killing himself, jolted a nation still trying to make sense of past tragedies.

Just two weeks earlier, a gunman opened fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, killing 11 people.

On February 14— Valentine's Day in the West-an attacker gunned down 17 students and teachers at a high school in Parkland, Florida, prompting a nationwide movement against gun violence.

Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that collects data about gun-related incidents, defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more victims are injured or killed, excluding the perpetrator.

The organization has marked the Thousand Oaks killings as the 307th mass shooting in the US this year. The incidents have resulted in a total of 328 deaths and 1,243 injuries.

There were 346 such cases last year, 382 in 2016, 335 in 2015 and 270 in 2014, data from the archive show.

The number of incidents fluctuates every year, but it means that an average of one mass shooting has occurred every day in the US in the past four years.

According to a 2016 study cited by CNN, nearly one-third of the world's mass shootings took place in the US from 1966 to 2012.

Some people have argued that the prevalence of weapons in the nation and its lax gun laws have played a role in the string of fatalities.

Analysis by the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project in Geneva, Switzerland, shows that the US has the highest number of civilians who own guns. It estimated that there were 120.5 firearms per 100 residents last year.

Long, a 28-year-old former Marine who likely had post-traumatic stress disorder, was carrying a Glock 21 .45-caliber handgun with an extended magazine.

Although the motive for the Thousand Oaks shootings is still unclear, officials said a mental health specialist had cleared Long from involuntary psychiatric commitment after the police were called in to investigate a disturbance at his house in April.

Such a commitment refers to the way in which a judge can order a person to have mental health treatment even if they do not want to undergo this.

US President Donald Trump, who described Long as "a very sick puppy" and "a very, very mentally ill person", blamed mental illness for the deadly assault.

Ben Campbell, a survivor of Wednesday's shootings, said: "It's not a gun control problem. It's mental (health).

"They had what they needed, and didn't stop him," said Campbell, referring to the mental health evaluation the authorities conducted on Long.

Several high profile Democratic leaders, including Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have vowed to strengthen gun controls.

"This cannot continue," she wrote on her Twitter page, adding that Congress must act now to end gun violence.

Gavin Newsom, California's governor-elect, who will be sworn into office in January, urged people to take action against gun violence.

"Simply saying, 'enough is enough', is not enough," he wrote on Twitter. "We must address the root causes of these devastating acts at every level of government."

The debate ultimately comes down to gun ownership rights versus public safety.

The midterm elections on Tuesday resulted in some good news for gun control advocates. At least 17 Democrats newly elected to the House of Representatives have backed stricter gun laws, according to CNBC.

However, the Senate remained in the grip of Republican lawmakers, many of whom are supporters of Second Amendment Laws, which grant the right to bear arms.

The Thousand Oaks shootings, which took place just a day after the elections, prompted some locals to wonder if politicians are doing enough to address gun violence.

"I am angry because didn't we go through this two weeks ago?" said Sarah Silikula, a mother of eight who lives near the Borderline Bar and Grill.

"Didn't we just have elections? Why isn't this important?" she said. "We have a president that stands up to everybody, apparently. Why isn't he standing up to the guns? Why isn't he standing tall and saying 'enough is enough?' I dare him to do that."

The same question was on the mind of Isabella Robakowski, a senior at Newbury Park High School and president of NeverAgainSoCal, a grassroots organization formed after the Parkland High School shootings.

Robakowski said it was tough waking up to news of the latest incident on Thursday because she lives just over 6 km from the scene.

She said that since its inception last year NeverAgainSoCal has garnered 200 to 300 members, the majority of them high school and college students.

Kimia Moehbi, 18, a student at Moorpark College, Ventura County, said Wednesday's killings, which happened "so close to home" had prompted people to face the seriousness of gun violence.

"This was definitely a call to action for a lot of people who have been living in such complacency," Moehbi said.

But both Robakowski and Moehbi said gun violence is a complex problem that does not lend itself to a single explanation.

"This issue is tied into so many others, and we still need to fix background checks across our nation. Even in California, there are still loopholes," Robakowski said.

California, a state with one of the toughest gun laws in the nation, has been the "poster child" of gun control, illustrated by some recent actions taken by state lawmakers.

These include passing legislation that raised the age for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21 and imposing lifetime gun ownership bans on those convicted of domestic violence or who are involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness more than once a year.

Despite these regulations, questions remain. For example, the sale of the high-capacity magazine that Long used to kill his victims is illegal in California, prompting some observers to wonder how he had obtained the weapon.

Meanwhile, Thousand Oaks is having to cope with aftermath of the shootings.

Wind-whipped fires roared across Ventura County just a day after the killings, filling the air with smoke and forcing the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of residents.

On Friday, the scene of the shootings remained locked down by law enforcement officers, but occasionally people stopped by to mourn the victims and to add more fresh flowers to the piles that had already been left.

But like countless others in the US, they are still struggling to comprehend what prompted the shootings that shattered the tranquility of this normally safe area.

Delaney Dunlea, a 20-year-old who visited the scene on Friday with her friend Lauren Gunn— both students from Moorpark College —said, "We know half of the people who passed away, so it's just been crazy."

The most ironic aspect for local residents is that the bar was a communal gathering place for survivors of the Las Vegas Route 91 Harvest musical festival last year in which 58 people were killed.

Tanner Williams, 20, and Ryan McCarty, 19, both from nearby Simi Valley, were among a group of youngsters who stopped by the scene of the Thousand Oaks killings on Friday. Williams said he knew seven of the victims. His girlfriend, who was in the bar during the shootings, made it out alive.

Asked about his opinion on guns, Williams said the incident had changed his perspective on post-traumatic stress disorder, but not on gun violence.

"If everyone in the bar had concealed (guns), he might have gotten just a couple of people, but everyone would have just pulled out their guns and ended the threat there," he said.

No matter how strict the gun law is in California, people would figure a way around it, Williams added.

McCarty said: "It's a systematic problem in the US. I guess it's polarizing to everyone in the nation. To even change it would be a monumental thing."