President Joe Biden, on Tuesday, visited Monterey Park, a city recovering from a Jan. 21 mass shooting that left 11 dead, and which has become a new front in the administration’s efforts toward curbing gun violence.
Just blocks away from where the gunman’s nighttime rampage began amid the city’s Lunar New Year celebration, Biden touted a resilient, tight-knit immigrant community while unveiling the latest effort to quell gun violence in America’s cities and towns: He announced an executive order aimed at going as far as possible toward universal background checks on gun purchases.
Inside a packed but hushed gym at the Boys and Girls Club of the San Gabriel Valley, one by one, the president described each victim of the shooting, reading off their names along with facts about them.
They embodied the idea that “Our diversity is the strength of this nation,” he said.
“I’m here today with you to act,” Biden said.
The executive order — titled “Reducing Gun Violence and Making Our Communities Safer” — cannot do what Congress can do, but given Congress’ lack of action on such a ban, the administration says Biden’s executive order instructs the attorney general to ensure gun sellers are conducting background checks as required under law and clarify just who can be “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms.
These efforts will ensure fewer guns will be obtained by felons or domestic abusers, senior administration officials said.
Additionally, Biden’s executive order seeks to improve federal support for families, first responders and communities after a mass shooting. Pointing to FEMA responses to natural disasters, senior administration officials said Biden wants to see greater coordination among federal agencies to provide short and long-term aid, such as mental health or financial resources, to communities grappling with mass shootings.
In Monterey Park, the gunman — 72-year-old Huu Can Tran — used a semi-automatic handgun that was purchased in Monterey Park but not registered in California, authorities said. Investigators found hundreds of rounds of ammunition and items authorities believe were being used to make homemade firearm suppressors at the gunman’s home, officials said.
“He should never of had a weapon that was made for war, nor should have the shooters in Half Moon Bay, Buffalo, Uvalde,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, who hails from Monterey Park, referring to the gunman. “This carnage must end and that’s why we must pass a national assault rifle weapons ban.”
Chu also touted the order’s emphasis on multilingual red flag law awareness efforts.
Others acknowledged, that will not be easy.
“Despite the good that the Executive Order will bring, we all know that there will be more work to do,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California. “This includes bringing back universal background checks and banning the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines.”
Biden’s remarks came in front of a friendly crowd of roughly 200 packed inside the Boys & Girls Club gym, that included leaders and advocates, many hoping for reform in the nation’s gun laws.
Yellow-, white-, and blue-striped walls and basketball hoops lined the perimeter of the gym. Many were dressed in red, with students/mom “demand action” shirts as well purple Brady Campaign shirts, referencing James Brady, the late press secretary for President Ronald Reagan who was shot and severely injured in an assassination attempt on Reagan.
Brady became a gun control advocate, establishing the campaign in his name.
A memorial for the victims hanging right outside the gym showed their dancing silhouettes: “In Heaven We Dance,” it read. “In Loving Memory.”
“He is focusing on the most effective tools we have right now, strengthening our background check system so that we can keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, and making our ‘red flag laws’ more effective …,” said L.A. County Board of Supervisors Chair Janice Hahn.
The massacre has shaken the city, known for its diversity, its culinary destinations and peace. While life has gotten back to some semblance of normal, the memory is still fresh and businesses continue to feel the impact of the tragedy as customers haven’t fully come back to the rattled city.
But as it emerges from the shooting, leaders are hopeful that the federal government will help bolster mental health resources and establish anti-violence reforms that reduce the chance of such a tragedy ever happening again.
“If ever the United States of America needed to find a source of strength, it’s found right here in the community of Monterey Park, California,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California.
Biden was also meeting with families and the owner of Star Ballroom Dance Studio, the site of the shooting.
Biden’s executive order echoes his February State of the Union Speech for Congress to renew a ban on assault weapons.
The tragedy — coupled with a mass shooting in Half Moon Bay only two days later that left seven dead — has spurred other action on gun legislation, from the city to the state level.
The Monterey Park City Council itself voted unanimously unanimously this month an array of gun control bills, including an assault weapons ban, at the state and federal levels.
And during a March 1 meeting, the council directed the city manager and city attorney to amend the Monterey Park Municipal Code to reflect L.A. County’s zoning regulations outlining a 1,000-foot buffer zone between firearms dealers and sensitive areas and between firearms dealers and other firearms dealers.
State leaders this month joined to push for a ban on guns in public places, like churches, banks, parks and public libraries, to name a few.
Soon after the shooting, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted two gun-control regulations, one that bans the sale of large-caliber handguns and ammunition and one that prohibits people from carrying guns in county parks, plazas, beaches and buildings, with exceptions for law enforcement, active military and others.
The two new ordinances affect only unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County, such as East Los Angeles, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Valinda, East San Gabriel, City Terrace, Agua Dulce, Topanga, West Whittier and many other communities ??” representing about 1.1 million of the county’s 10.2 million population.
California has a reputation among gun control advocates of having the strongest firearm safety laws in the U.S. And while mass shootings, like the tragedy in Monterey Park, garner more attention than gun-related homicides or suicides, research shows California has a lower firearm mortality rate than other states with more lax gun control laws.
The bloodshed has intensified fears about gun violence among those in the Asian Pacific Islander community on the heels of a rising tide of hate crimes in recent years.
Chu has said that the shooting “sends chills” throughout the whole Asian-American community.
“That’s why it’s so important for us to be united and to heal. That’s why it’s also so important for President Biden to come here, to help the community and to console the community,” she said.
There have been 10,905 hate incidents against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020 to December 31, 2021, reported STOP AAPI Hate, a coalition launched in March 2020 by a multigroup of Asian-American civic organizations to track and respond to incidents of hate, violence and harassment to their community.
“After three years of trauma that so many of us are living with day in and day out, it’s critical that we have the conversation around gun safety given what has happened,” said Manjusha Kulkarni , the executive director of AAPI Equity Alliance, who’s also a co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
Around 3,000 Asian Americans are impacted by gun violence every year, Kulkarni said, citing such as examples over the decades as the 1989 Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton, during which six Southeast Asians died, as well as the 2021 Atlanta shooting, which left six women of Asian descent dead.
Such numbers, coupled with the larger scope of American gun violence – have catalyzed the executive order.
“The gun industry continues to work overtime to create a cultural of chaos,” said Padilla. “To them American lives are worth less than the profits they make with the guns they sell.”
The order itself emphasizes that no matter what side of the gun control debate, the facts of scores dead in mass shootings is inescapable.
“We cannot accept these facts as the enduring reality of life in America,” the order reads. “Instead, we must together insist that we have had enough, and that we will no longer allow the interests of the gun manufacturers to win out over the safety of our children and Nation.”