January 30, 2023

This comment originally appeared in the Pennsylvania Capital-Star.

My Nhan, 65, immigrated to the United States from Vietnam in the 1980s and settled in California’s San Gabriel Valley in a community called Rosemead.

Her niece Fonda Quan said she was ready to “start the year fresh” and celebrate with her friends, according to CBC.

She never had the chance.


Nhan was among the victims identified by law enforcement last weekend in the Lunar New Year massacre at a popular dance hall in Monterey Park, California.

Quan told the CBC that she doesn’t know how her aunt got her interested in ballroom dancing, but said she thought it might have something to do with her getting a chance to get dressed and have fun.

“What I do know is that she has always been interested in fashion,” Quan said. “And I think those beautiful dresses are part of ballroom dancing. I think that’s probably related.”

There’s not a single good reason Nhan lost his life, or the 10 other people who died in Monterey Park, or the seven other people who died just 48 hours later in an outbreak of violence in Half Moon Bay, California.

They have been victims both of the ruthless killers who killed them too soon and of America’s pathological obsession with guns that are all too easy to obtain and all too easy to use as instruments of mass slaughter.

The solution — making guns harder to get and keeping them away from people who shouldn’t have them — has been staring us in the face for years.

But given the classic definition of insanity—doing the same thing over and over while hoping for a different outcome—we have not done what both logic and compassion demand of us.

And people like Nhan, who fled their war-torn country to seek a better life in the United States, are falling victim to a war of attrition in which the death toll only increases and nothing ever changes.

A customer at ABQ Guns in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Sergio Flores/Bloomberg, Getty Images)

And the toll is breathtaking.

There have been more than 600 mass shootings nationwide since January 1, 2022, the Washington Post reported, citing data compiled by the Gun Violence Archive.

In January alone, there were 39 mass shootings, killing 70 and injuring 167, NBC News reported, citing similar gun violence archive data.

The research group defines mass shootings as incidents in which four people, not counting the shooter, are injured or killed.

Based on those criteria, there has been an average of more than one mass shooting per day in the United States since January 2022, and not a single week in the past year has passed without at least four such incidents, according to the Post.

But a veteran lawmaker who has been pushing for measures to reduce gun violence for years said he remains hopeful of the possibility of change.

“I’ve seen public opinion evolve over the years,” said State Assemblyman Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, whose Pittsburgh district includes the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 people were slaughtered in 2018 in the worst incident of the anti-Semitic violence in American history.

“People want to know what you’re going to do about it [the violence]’ Frankel told the Capital star. “There is a growing mood to do something.”

This is backed up by poll data, with an overwhelming majority of gun owners saying they support universal background checks, raising the minimum age to purchase guns to 21, and support for so-called “red flag” laws to keep guns away from potentially dangerous people , according to an NPR/Ipsos poll released last November.

While Pennsylvania’s current state budget includes money for efforts to prevent gun violence, Republicans, who then controlled the General Assembly, stymied Democrat-backed efforts to restrict gun access and require stricter background checks.

This funding from state lawmakers, along with actions by Congress and the White House last year that resulted in the first major federal gun security effort in 30 years, was a start. But it is far from enough.

As in previous legislatures, Frankel is again pushing for a package of proposals to combat hate crime that would address the root causes of some acts of violence.

With the House of Representatives likely to return to tight Democratic control after a series of special elections next month, Frankel told the Capital star he believes there is room for common ground.

“We want to make a difference,” Frankel said of his lawmaking allies who support the dismantling measures. “We want to find a way to move the ball across the field.”

Across the Capitol, Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Philadelphia Democrat whose hometown has made national headlines for the gun violence that plagues its streets, is sponsoring a series of bills aimed at stemming the bloodshed.

Among them is a bill co-sponsored with Philadelphia Democratic Senator Art Haywood that will make licensing mandatory for anyone wishing to purchase a gun.

In a memo to their colleagues seeking support for the proposal, which would provide exemptions for law enforcement and active duty members, Hughes and Haywood referenced data from the Johns Hopkins Center on Gun Policy and Research showing that states with licensing laws are doing so tended to have lower rates of firearm-related deaths than those without firearms.

“This law is not intended to punish responsible gun owners,” the two lawmakers wrote, trying to curtail knee-jerk criticism from the pro-gun faction. In fact, the New England Journal of Medicine reports that most American gun owners support going through law enforcement to obtain a permit. It’s also important to note that Maryland made a similar proposal that was upheld in federal court.”

Again, an answer so obvious – we license drivers, hunters, fishermen, boaters, barbers and so many others – it’s ridiculous and tragic that we haven’t already.

A protester holds a sign calling for action against gun violence during a session of the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee June 13, 2022. (John L. Micek/Pennsylvania Capital star)

But the pure and simple fact of the matter is that until we embrace the solutions that stare us in the face, there will be more My Nhans and thousands of others to mourn, whose families will have an empty seat at dinner forever and whose deaths will become yet another tally piled up on a numbing mountain of statistics.

But it doesn’t have to be, as Adam Garber, executive director of gun violence reduction group CeaseFirePA, told the Capital star in an email.

“It’s easier to continue the work to save lives than to comfort another mum in grief. It’s easier to fight for a safer future than to wonder if the next mass shooting will happen at my child’s school,” Garber wrote.

“And even if it was harder, it’s the only thing we have because we can’t let the communities we love continue to be torn apart,” he continued. “As long as the NRA is strong, I promise you [that our desire] Saving life is stronger and will win. The question is how high the toll is in the meantime. Lawmakers can keep it low if they listen to Pennsylvanians.”

Change comes when we are brave enough to embrace it, tough enough to put in the hard work to make it happen, and compassionate enough to swear that no family will ever have to suffer such a tremendous loss again.

If we’re really serious about honoring the fallen, that’s where the journey begins.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star retains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek with any questions: [email protected]. Follow Pennsylvania Capital Star on Facebook and Twitter.

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