A week ago, a gunman opened fire at a San Jose, California, rail yard, killing nine of his colleagues before apparently killing himself. Some eight miles away, the gunman’s home had been set ablaze.
Although officials are still trying to piece together exactly what happened that morning and why — a task that may never really be complete — the details that have emerged are gutting, in part because they were predictable in a nation where such mass shootings have become a numbing routine.
The gunman had for years complained about his job at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, telling his ex-wife that he wished he could kill his co-workers and writing about his hatred for the agency in a notebook once flagged by border officials as he returned from a trip. He was described by colleagues, neighbors and former partners as an emotionally volatile, likely mentally ill loner.
Victims’ loved ones described the shattering sudden loss of parents, spouses and friends who were merely starting an ordinary work day when they were killed.
This wasn’t the first time that San Jose’s mayor, Sam Liccardo, had been called upon to comfort community members grieving for loved ones killed in a mass shooting.
In 2019, “we lost two children,” he told me Tuesday, referring to the deaths of two young city residents during a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.
Now, as then, Liccardo said, the first priority has been to ensure that survivors and families have access to counseling and support. But he said he also feels urgency to enact policies that might stem the tide of gun violence — even if long-sought federal gun control legislation has been elusive.
“Mayors don’t have the luxury of offering prayers and platitudes,” he said. “People expect concrete actions.”
To that end, Liccardo said, he hoped the San Jose City Council would approve, by the end of the year, a first-in-the-nation requirement that gun owners in the city insure their weapons or pay fees to keep them. The idea, he explained, is that guns are contributing to a public health crisis — and it’s expensive.
Liccardo said that requiring drivers to carry auto insurance has helped cut down on fatalities from car crashes, so having the private insurance industry get involved would help incentivize responsible gun ownership and defray the cost of gun violence to taxpayers, who pay for emergency and law enforcement services.
The mayor first proposed the idea in 2019 in the wake of the Gilroy shooting, but he said the pandemic delayed progress on the measure.
“We were working with an epidemiologist at the county, so we put that aside,” he said. “Now, I think we’re ready to come back.”
Of course, gun laws at every level have faced intense and sustained legal challenges. Liccardo told me he’s “not delusional” about the fact that a gun regulation ordinance would require a vigorous legal defense. But he said that city-level policy changes could provide ideas that Congress and even the state legislature would not be nimble enough to enact.
“No one would say that it would be ideal for each city to come up with its own policies,” he said. “But we recognize that cities can be laboratories for policy innovation.”
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