Incense is burned in remembrance of lives lost in the recent Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay mass shootings. | Credit: Don Brubaker

Just a month ago, 11 people were shot and killed in Monterey Park during a Lunar New Year dance, and seven people were shot and killed in Half Moon Bay two days later. Nearly all were of Asian descent, some of them at work, some of them at a club for ballroom dancing. To remember them and to urge a continued fight for greater gun safety laws, their 18 names were read by Terease Chin and Helen Wong at Speaker’s Corner in Santa Barbara on Sunday, bracketed by a haunting melody played on a Japanese flute by Bob Sedivy and the ritual burning of incense.

Organized by the Asian American-Pacific Islander Solidarity Network, Moms Demand Action, Michel Lynch, and several others, the group stood in the same spot two years ago, recalled one organizer, Juliet Butita, to mourn the eight people who were killed in spas in Georgia, nearly all of them women of Asian descent. “This is not a political issue,” Betita said of the rally’s call for an end to gun violence. “This is a public safety issue and a public health issue.”

The gun violence statistics are astounding, and “heart-wrenching,” as Supervisor Das Williams described it. In the two short months of 2023 gone by, 90 mass shootings have taken place and 2,835 people have died, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Despite the political paralysis, Williams observed there was hope in the first gun violence law passed by Congress in decades — it allows people to petition for weapons to be removed from people who are a threat to themselves or others, expands the domestic violence law to include dating partners, and broadens background checks to 18 year olds. The “Red Flag Laws” are little known, Williams said, adding to check to find out more for other states and counties.

Nonetheless, the law is being challenged in the Ninth Circuit, Williams said, and is likely to end up at the Supreme Court. “And we know gun laws don’t have much chance there.” But removing a gun from someone who’s despondent is an act of love, he said, recalling that he’d done that himself when his father’s partner died. “Think of the tragedies over the years that happen to people with mental health issues and who own guns.”

As passersby walked through the small vigil of about 50 people, Williams said the issue wasn’t just among Asian Americans, but people of Jewish descent and in other communities during what seem to be very angry times.

Van Do-Reynoso, who saw Santa Barbara County through the pandemic years as the former director of Public Health, agreed that violence was not new to the Asian and other communities. But the rally and ebbing-and-flowing crowd were encouraging because of their interest, and were an antidote to hopelessness and despair. “There’s power in numbers,” Do-Reynoso said, encouraging actions like working toward culturally appropriate mental and health services. “Be kind,” she suggested, “notice other people, especially those who might be struggling. Compassion can make change happen.”

Before the remembrance ceremony began, Sarah Penna and Jessica Truitt invited everyone to join Moms Demand Action, a national group working to further laws that prohibit assault weapons and extended magazines. The Santa Barbara branch was setting up a survivors group, Truitt said, and that emotional support resources were available. Penna said she joined Moms Demand Action after Uvalde, wanting to take action against her worries when her 8-year-old went to school. “We don’t have to live like this,” she said.


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