All three fatalities from Sunday’s mass shooting that took place at the Gilroy Garlic Festival have now been named. Stephen Romero, the youngest victim at only 6 years old, was fatally shot while playing at the festival; several of Romero’s extended family members were also hit. The two other fatalities have been identified as 13-year-old Keyla Salazar and 25-year-old Trevor Irby. Over a dozen other festival attendees were injured in the shooting. The shooter, a 19-year-old resident of Gilroy, was shot and killed on the scene by law enforcement agents. Many of us are left wondering why such a terrible thing could happen in the tight-knit Californian community, situated about 30 miles south of San Jose.
The weapon used by the shooter was an assault-style rifle that he had purchased in Las Vegas only a few weeks prior. The Attorney General of California Xavier Becerra emphasized to CNN the illegality of the gun, underscoring the state’s strict gun legislation. “That weapon could not be sold in California. That weapon cannot be imported into the state of California.” This begs the question of how gun legislation can and can’t protect the public. After all, one of the critiques that gun rights activists and policy critics have about gun legislation is that the “bad guys” aren’t miraculously going to stop purchasing and using guns simply because it would be illegal to do so.
Point taken, but tight restrictions are simply one element of a cohesive plan to protect the public from gun violence. A representative from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence explained to the New York Times, “Some places are trying to move the needle at the state level, but it is like combating air pollution. Your state can be the strongest on regulating emissions, but if neighboring states have no pollution controls, then air pollution is going to come downwind.” Effective gun legislation, then, cannot be achieved without the support of the federal government.
With the Gilroy shooting, we are unfortunately reminded that guns are only part of the problem. The shooter was ostensibly motivated to enact the mass shooting after being radicalized by white nationalist literature circulating online. Investigators discovered that the shooter had also posted a white supremacist manifesto to his Instagram prior to the shooting, and that he had alluded specifically to the festival in a way that went under the radar.
Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, said last week that most of the recent cases of domestic terrorism are “motivated by some version of what you might call white supremacist violence.” If we want to reduce the incidence of mass shootings, we’ll need to start by addressing the existence of white nationalist terrorists as well as the radicalizing media that white nationalist circles use to attract new followers. According to figures cited by CNN, white nationalist terrorists and other far-right groups were behind a majority of “extremist-related” fatalities in 2017. And yet, some politicians, including the President, refuse to acknowledge that this brand of terrorism is a threat to the public. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess,” he told the publication earlier this year.
If our elected officials continue to avoid taking action to improve gun safety and reduce deadly domestic extremism, the country of America will continue to have very, very serious problems.