San Jose mayor renews push for gun control after mass shooting
At a May 26 news conference about the VTA mass shooting, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said that the city will do everything possible to prevent future tragedies. Photo by Vicente Vera.

In the aftermath of Wednesday’s mass shooting at a VTA light rail yard, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo is doubling down on gun control measures.

In July 2019, Liccardo, incensed by a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival, proposed an ambitious gun control plan: Make all gun owners in the city carry insurance—an idea that halted last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan made national news, and Liccardo penned an op-ed on gun insurance for the Washington Post. But the plan never materialized. Now he’s determined to try again.

If his insurance proposal is any indication, Liccardo has an uphill climb ahead of him. That policy along with other measures proposed in 2019 were delayed due to funding challenges caused by the pandemic, including restricting purchases outside of gun shops, requiring purchases be recorded on video and mandating firearms safes for gun owners. Research on gun deaths has also been harder to come by due to medical privacy concerns.

Mayor Sam Liccardo kneels as he listens to a rendition of “Amazing Grace” at a May 27, 2021 rally at City Hall honoring the victims of the VTA shooting. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

“I’ll aggressively push forward sensible gun control measures within my power and authority,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight on Thursday. He said that ultimately he’s looking for federal action on gun laws since action from the state and feds “severely restrains” the authority of cities to be able to protect their residents.

The mass shooting happened Wednesday morning shortly after a union meeting at a VTA light rail yard in downtown San Jose. The gunman, 57-year-old VTA technician Samuel Cassidy, killed nine people before shooting himself. Cassidy was set to appear at a disciplinary hearing for making racist remarks toward coworkers the day of the shooting, according to NBC Bay Area.

County officials identified all nine victims earlier in the day.

The shooter had three 9mm pistols and 32 high-capacity magazines, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities said the shooter fired 39 bullets. The magazines, which held more than 10 rounds, are illegal in California.

The three guns were legally obtained and registered, according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair.

Liccardo told San José Spotlight Thursday that he soon intends to roll out measures that his office worked on for the last year-and-a-half with a team of health and safety experts regarding gun violence. He said his office is still working with state and federal authorities to get gun violence data to support his proposals and that he will present data to the San Jose City Council within the next month.

San Jose councilmembers Matt Mahan (left) and Raul Peralez stand with Mayor Sam Liccardo as he shares his thoughts on the VTA tragedy Wednesday. Photo by Vicente Vera

The law aims to prevent straw purchases—buying a firearm and passing it off to another person prohibited from owning a gun—a practice banned under state law. He added that he will introduce a series of other measures in coming weeks, including a measure to mandate firearm safes for gun owners.

“There’s no magic law that’s going to stop these massacres in our country,” Liccardo said about gun violence. “But until we change the fundamental equation that we have as many guns as people, this is going to be a tragic, horrific reality in cities throughout the country.”

Several local groups are already putting pressure on local and federal leaders to take action on gun control following the rail yard shooting.

Jessica Blitchok, a San Jose resident and volunteer with the California chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, said more federal gun laws need to be passed, such as mandatory background checks and closing the so-called “boyfriend loophole.” She believes that such laws would have prevented several shooters from purchasing guns—including Cassidy, who had a history of mood swings and anger issues according to those close to him.

“Now is the moment lawmakers need to come together to get a bill to the president’s desk,” Blitchok said, citing a study that shows 94% of Americans support background checks.

Jessica Blitchok of Moms Demand Action. Photo courtesy of Twitter.

But not everyone thinks more regulation is the answer.

San Jose resident Kyle Manzano is the founder of Manzano Tactical, a local firearms safety school. The quickest and most practical solution, he said, is to ensure that everyone is trained on how to defend themselves, whether it be through firearms or other means like martial arts.

“I think the focus is on the wrong spot,” Manzano said. “The unfortunate thing is that we need more armed civilians. I’m not saying that all the priests and everyone should be carrying guns. But I think we should be allowed to if you want to.”

Manzano, an advocate of concealed carry laws which are highly restricted in Santa Clara County, believes that while not every mass shooting can be stopped, having people be able to defend themselves is key.

“The number one thing is to not be a vulnerable victim,” he said.

Kyle Manzano, left, instructs a firearms class. Photo courtesy of Kyle Manzano.

Support for gun control laws is on a slight decline, according to data from the Pew Research Center. The center found the number of Americans who believe the U.S. needs stricter gun laws decreased from 60% in 2019 to 53% in April.

“I 100% believe in the Second Amendment and people’s rights to own guns,” Blitchok said. “But with rights come responsibilities. And we know that our constitutional rights aren’t absolute. It’s not an either-or choice.”

The state already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. California has 111 gun laws on its rolls, more than any other state. The median number of gun laws per state in the country is 20.5.

There’s some data that shows the laws are working to reduce gun deaths. According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, California has the seventh-lowest firearm death rate in the nation, with 7.2 deaths for every 100,000 people. For comparison, the nation’s average firearm death rate is 11.4.

The state’s firearm homicide rate of 3.7 deaths per 100,000 people is the 21st-lowest in the country. There were 39,707 firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2019—approximately 109 each day—with 2,945 firearm-related deaths in California that same year.

In Santa Clara County, CDC data shows that the firearm death rate is even lower: 4.13 per 100,000 people.

Still, local lawmakers believe that a death rate of 7.2 is still too high.

State Assemblymember Ash Kalra. File Photo.

“When we talk about measures like mandating insurance, it doesn’t prevent people from owning a gun, but it could prevent someone who shouldn’t own a gun from possessing a gun,” Assemblymember Ash Kalra told San José Spotlight. “We have to do more to ban assault rifles and other extremely dangerous weapons from the community. Those who have issues with that, tell the nine victims’ families what they think we should do to protect our community.”

Local community activist and restauranteur Kirk Vartan thinks a middle ground can be achieved on gun control, but said society can’t force all the changes through legislation.

“I’m seeing a breakdown in how we move forward,” Vartan said. “Everyone’s feeling unheard right now and no one knows what to do.”

He said he’s struggled to find a forum where people on both sides can come together and find common ground on what people want to accomplish.

“Nobody wants to take on the issue of having a conversation,” Vartan said. “And that to me is the travesty on so many levels. If we can’t talk about these things, we’ll never actually understand where we are.”

Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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