Local law enforcement officials discuss increase in gun violence
Three adults, including one man and two women, and one child were killed Wednesday evening in a shooting at a business park in the city of Orange.
The suspect was identified as 44-year-old Aminadab Gaxiola Gonzalez, and authorities said he knew all the victims either through business or personally, according to national media reports.
The child was a 9-year-old boy who authorities said appeared to have died in his mother’s arms as she tried to shield him from the gunfire.
Mr. Gonzalez suffered a gunshot wound and remains hospitalized in stable but critical condition, and authorities are unsure whether the shot was self-inflicted.
The names of the victims are being withheld.
At a news conference Thursday morning, police said the shooting was not a “random act of violence” and believe it was an isolated incident.
Officers recovered a semiautomatic handgun and a backpack with pepper spray, handcuffs and ammunition from the scene, which officials believe belonged to the suspect.
Another woman was seriously wounded by gunfire and transported to a local hospital in critical condition.
This shooting follows two recent mass shootings that occurred within one week in March — one on March 16 in Atlanta, where a gunman shot and killed eight people, six of whom were women of Asian descent, at three spas, and the other on March 22 in Boulder, where a man stormed a grocery store and shot and killed 10 people.
On top of shootings around the nation, the Santa Barbara Police Department is continuing to search for the suspect or suspects involved in Monday’s shooting on the Eastside in the area of Eucalyptus Hill Road and Salinas Street that left one person injured.
According to Santa Barbara Police Chief Bernard Melekian, the Eastside shots fired were likely gang-related.
“That points to a separate epidemic that has been around almost as long, and that’s the issue of gang violence,” he told the News-Press. “The real issue there, in my opinion, is how do we intervene in the lives of these young people? … What I do know is that even among self-admitted gang members, 90% are not inclined to do horrific acts of violence.”
Chief Melekian said he’s dealt with both youth intervention and gun violence associated with mental health for the executive portion of his career.
Regarding the mass shootings around the nation, the police chief said they’re the result of the “clear intersection” of mental health and gun violence.
“The three shootings certainly point to the ongoing issue of gun violence, but if we don’t look at the resources we make available for mental health treatment and mental health intervention, we’re not going to make significant progress on this,” Chief Melekian said. “I’ve been saying this for probably over 20 to 25 years now … I’m not diminishing the need for gun regulation and the discussion that goes with that, but I really feel very strongly that mental health prevention and treatment and intervention need to come as part of that.”
He added that the increase of gun violence is clear and backed up by data, and could be attributed to “a whole myriad of causes.” However, the mandated lockdowns and isolation from COVID-19 could be one cause.
“There’s no question that the sort of pent-up frustration and the lockdowns behind COVID have produced a sharp rise in the number of people who have actually actively sought mental health counseling and treatment, which suggests there’s a large number that probably did not,” Chief Melekian said. “Secondly, I think we’re just in a very volatile time in this country for a variety of reasons, and we have been for several years.”
The chief said that it’s important to make a clear distinction between incidents like the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder and incidents like Santa Barbara’s Eastside experienced earlier in the week. Violent crime and gang violence, he said, must be addressed by law enforcement, but mass shootings should be addressed by both law enforcement and mental health professionals.
He said, “I can’t remember who said it, but somebody said, ‘When all is said and done, usually more is said than done.’ It would be nice if we used these tragedies to actually start to move us in the direction of doing something as a society.”
Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce Dudley told the News-Press that when she heard the news about the shooting in Orange, she felt “devastated, bewildered and shocked.”
“But then I immediately went to feeling some level of comfort at how prepared Santa Barbara County is for such an event,” she said. “I’ve been involved in three mass shootings with a stabbing and one mass death with the Conception. I’m afraid I have far too much experience as the chief law enforcement official in Santa Barbara County.”
The district attorney said her office responds to these mass shootings, such as those in Thousand Oaks and Las Vegas, by sending staff members to the sites. She said the office has its main goals and a procedure to follow in the event of a tragedy, and the priorities go in order of 1) ensuring public safety, 2) helping victims and their families, and 3) collecting evidence to prosecute.
Ms. Dudley is one of the founding members of Prosecutors Against Gun Violence, a nonpartisan group of prosecutors advocating for certain policies and improved enforcement of existing laws.
After the mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, she said she was on the phone with other members to discuss what state legislation they felt could make an impact.
“I became concerned about the kind of violence we’ve seen during COVID,” she said. “It’s on the increase, and the paralysis we’re experiencing in Washington, D.C., is not helping matters.”
Ms. Dudley and the other prosecutors have their sights set on two main pieces of legislation to address gun violence, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act and the Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021. Both bills have the most realistic chance of passing the Senate.
The Bipartisan Background Checks Act, which passed the House on March 11, would establish new background check requirements for firearm transfers between private parties, specifically prohibiting transfers between private parties unless a licensed gun dealer, manufacturer or importer first takes possession of the firearm to conduct a background check. It wouldn’t apply to certain situations, such as a gift between spouses in good faith.
The Enhanced Background Checks Act of 2021, which also passed the House on March 11, would increase the amount of time, from three to 10 business days, that a federal firearms licensee must wait to receive a completed background check prior to transferring the firearm to an unlicensed person.
Under the new legislation, if 10 days go by and the check is incomplete, the prospective purchaser may submit a petition. If another 10 days go by without a final determination, the licensee may transfer the firearm to the prospective purchaser.
The bill would fix what is referred to as the “Charleston Loophole,” which allows gun dealers to complete sales after three days if a buyer’s background check has not been completed by the FBI. The bill is awaiting its fate in the Senate.
Other bills include ones that would increase alerts of background check denials, require training for gun dealers and their employees every two years, require gun owners to report the theft or loss of a firearm to law enforcement and make it a federal crime to allow straw purchasing of firearms. There are many other bills.
“California is one of the leading states in terms of stopping gun violence, and even with that, we’re still having a lot of gun violence … I think although California does have the best laws, we need to make it a national mandate, because people easily move from one state to another,” Ms. Dudley said. “Every other social justice or criminal justice issue, we always run into the fact that there isn’t going to be one size fits all. All we can do is make a difference in some areas, which we have done and will continue to do.”