Fear, grief and resilience: How we move forward after Lunar New Year massacre in my hometown
I was horrified to wake up last Sunday to the news of another mass shooting in this country, and further shocked and saddened that it happened in Monterey Park, California – the place I’ve called home for 37 years.
I can't begin to comprehend the pain and suffering the 11 victims’ families are going through, and this violence has torn a hole through all of our hearts here. While there is so much we do not yet know about the shooter, we do know his attack is among the worst in modern Los Angeles County history and occurred at a time that should have been very special to Asian Americans. Lunar New Year is the highlight of the year for many communities, and a time of celebration with our families.
In fact, only hours before – and only a block away – I joined with tens of thousands of people and many elected officials Saturday night at the opening of our Lunar New Year Festival.
What Monterey Park residents told me even before the shooting
Once again in America, however, celebration turned into horror. Until the shooter was surrounded Sunday afternoon, my constituents were on edge.
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After three years of increasing anti-Asian hate crimes looming in the minds of so many Asian Americans across the country, many San Gabriel Valley residents were already afraid they'd be a target last weekend. They told me how fearful they were to go to Lunar New Year celebrations, and they explained to me how scared they were to continue long-held traditions, such as visiting the local temples to pray for good fortune and health.
These fears were heart-wrenching.
This is the city where I got my start in public service. I served on the city council and was mayor three terms. I am now honored to represent this vibrant, welcoming and tight-knit community in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Monterey Park is a special place. It is two-thirds Asian American, and a shining example of a multicultural community that embraces immigrants and is stronger for it. That – along with the timing of the attack – is why the mass shooting on Lunar New Year's Eve has shaken Asian American communities across this country.
At candlelight vigils, grief, fear, anger
My neighbors who’ve attended vigils with me in the aftermath expressed a range of emotions – grief at our community’s loss, fear that was compounded by another mass shooting Monday in Northern California that killed seven people, and anger that we joined the ever-growing list of American cities that have experienced a mass shooting.
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But there was also love, unity and bravery. At these vigils, we reflected on the amazing lives of the friends and family we lost. We shared the stories of heroes such as Brandon Tsay, who saved so many people Saturday night by jumping into action to disarm the same shooter at a nearby dance studio. We thanked our first responders for their quick action in helping victims and finding the perpetrator.
And we came together to lift up our community.
I know Monterey Park is resilient and will heal from this tragedy together. That has been my message at vigils: to press forward together, to continue to be resilient, to attend Lunar New Year celebrations, and to live out our lives with some semblance of normalcy. We are safe from last weekend’s shooter.
Yet, I can’t help but also be angry and frustrated at our country’s failure to prevent mass shootings. Elected officials in Washington and across the country must be willing to do everything in our power through our words and actions to prevent future bloodshed.
Hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders
The impact of the attack in Monterey Park cannot be understood without also understanding the harmful impacts of racist rhetoric against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Since March 2020, nearly 11,500 incidents have been reported to Stop AAPI Hate.
And when our community members feel unsafe, gun lobbyists can capitalize on this racism and xenophobia by marketing gun sales to the communities of color who fear violent racist attacks. This dangerous cycle means that, rather than finding ways to ensure illegal firearms are removed from our streets, we are seeing an increase in gun sales and gun ownership in our communities.
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Thankfully, President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act last summer, the first gun legislation in three decades. I was proud to support this legislation to provide funds to states to establish red flag laws, which allow courts to remove firearms from those deemed a threat to themselves or others, close the “boyfriend loophole” by ensuring that those convicted of domestic violence will be prevented from purchasing a gun, and require those ages 18-21 to undergo enhanced background checks.
But this was just a first step and the bare minimum of what’s needed.
The gunman in last weekend’s massacre used a semi-automatic pistol that had an extended large-capacity magazine, designed to inflict maximum damage in a short period of time. While this type of weapon is illegal in California, our gun laws are only as good as our neighbors' gun laws.
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That is why I have been working so hard to pass federal gun legislation that will apply to every state in the country, including universal background checks and an assault weapon ban that also covers ammunition-feeding devices such as high-capacity magazines capable of accepting more than 10 rounds.
Last Congress, House Democrats passed legislation that would do so, but nearly every Republican refused to join us. In light of this continued violence, I urge my Republican colleagues to finally listen to their constituents and law enforcement officials and pass laws like these to protect lives.
All Americans deserve to feel safe and protected from hate and violence. But if more guns made us safer, we would already be the safest country in the world.
As last weekend made devastatingly clear in my hometown, that is not the case.
Congresswoman Judy Chu represents the 28th Congressional District of California, which includes Monterey Park, and is chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: After Monterey Park shooting, we move forward by focusing on gun laws