How Silicon Valley gun rules changed after the VTA shooting
Firearms collected at a May 2022 gun buyback event in Milpitas. Photo courtesy of the office of Supervisor Otto Lee.

    When a disgruntled employee fatally shot nine coworkers at a VTA rail yard last year, Silicon Valley officials vowed to take action.

    The May 26, 2021 VTA mass shooting is the deadliest gun massacre in the Bay Area’s history, where nine transit workers died from the attack. Another worker, haunted by the event, died by suicide months later.

    A year later, VTA workers and their loved ones are still reeling—and struggling to find a way to heal. In response to the shooting, San Jose and Santa Clara County have introduced a slate of gun control measures in hopes of curbing the senseless violence.

    This includes a first-in-the-nation policy that requires all firearm owners in San Jose to carry liability insurance and pay fees to support intervention programs—a plan Mayor Sam Liccardo has championed since 2019 when another mass shooting in Gilroy killed three people and wounded 17 others.

    “May 26, 2021 irrevocably changed San Jose, and it stole something from each of us,” Liccardo said in a statement Thursday, the one-year anniversary of the shooting. “But in the days that followed, we pulled together as one community, supporting our friends and neighbors, uplifting the memories of those who have left us too soon and carrying those still here through their journey to healing.”

    As of last year, San Jose shops are required to record purchases of firearms on video in an attempt to prevent the guns from being illegally passed on to someone else. The city is slated to begin enforcing the insurance requirements and collecting a mandatory $25 fee this August, though details on how—and who would do it—remain murky. The policy is also facing lawsuits.

    City and county officials are also cracking down on ghost guns—homemade firearms without serial numbers that are sometimes built from kits or 3D printers. Local gun stores must also post information about mental health services.

    Last weekend, Santa Clara County Supervisor Otto Lee, the Milpitas Police Department and the county District Attorney’s Office hosted a gun buyback event that collected more than 400 firearms in one day.

    “While we have made progress since that tragic day, we have so much further to go,” Rachel Davis, Liccardo’s spokesperson, told San José Spotlight. “Local and state leaders cannot do this alone. We need Congress to have the courage to join us and do what’s right, rather than what’s easy, in order to protect the lives and liberties of our residents.”

    Still falling short

    But some gun advocates and activists say local efforts are not enough.

    Dave Truslow is a National Rifle Association gun instructor who is also involved in setting up a nonprofit to help San Jose collect the new gun fee. Truslow said the county and cities like San Jose should invest together to create a position in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The person would pursue federal offenses on gun crimes for the region.

    Acquiring a firearm illegally is a federal crime, he said, but according to a 2018 report from the Government Accountability Office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office only prosecuted 12 out of 112,000 illegal firearm cases.

    “That’s absolutely ridiculous,” Truslow told San José Spotlight, adding the city of Columbia in South Carolina has already done so. “It’s not unprecedented.”

    He also points to the lack of investment in local prevention measures. The San Jose Police Department allocated about 1.4% of its $498 million budget on such programs last year.

    For Margaret Petros, executive director of Mothers Against Murder, Santa Clara County and San Jose are not doing enough for victims.

    “Of course I don’t want guns out there,” Petros told San José Spotlight. “There needs to be some reasonable measures taken to prevent these guns in the wrong hands, but it is almost impossible to do that.”

    Petros said real changes, however, could happen when crime victims are prioritized and centered in the conversations. Violence often breeds more violence, she said. If officials could intervene and offer preventative opportunities for troubled residents, it would steer them away from a destructive path.

    “They have to be sincere about it,” she said. “Don’t just do it for media attention or to satisfy some political movement about gun violence.”

    Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.

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