Dying in vain in Santa Monica and Sandy Hook

This coming Friday, it will have been six months since a shooter armed with an assault rifle killed 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The same day also will mark one week since another gunman, using the same type of gun, killed five in a rampage that ended at Santa Monica College (SMC).

In recent months, despite the defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate, some have suggested that Newtown fundamentally changed the politics of gun control in this country. And yet, the shooting in Santa Monica appeared to go almost entirely unnoticed, barely being mentioned in the public conversation.

“This incident is not getting the attention that some of the other shootings have had,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills), whose district includes the entire city of Santa Monica, told me on Wednesday. “I think that people are getting to be inured to this kind of violence.”

Maybe. But it’s hard not to notice that even the strongest advocates of gun control legislation have been mostly silent in the aftermath of last week’s shooting.

Take Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). In the wake of the Newtown massacre, Feinstein introduced an amendment that would have banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which was voted down by the Senate in April. On June 7, while a deadly hail of bullets was flying in her home state, Feinstein was visiting Guantanamo Bay. Her office issued two press releases that day, neither of them about the shooting.

President Barack Obama told Congress in his State of the Union address in February that “The families of Newtown deserve a vote.” But last Friday he was a 10-minute drive away from SMC, and said nothing about the shooting — not that day, and not since. Obama’s advocacy group, Organizing for Action, has made gun control legislation a priority, but also made no public mention of the shooting in Santa Monica. Its Twitter feed was exclusively focused on the immigration reform bill making its way through the Senate.

Perhaps Waxman is right, that after Newtown (and Aurora and Virginia Tech and Columbine), five dead adults doesn't shock anyone anymore. Perhaps the seeming randomness of the violence made it harder to convey the horror of what happened in Santa Monica. Maybe the timing of the shooting (Friday afternoon, Pacific Time) and the ethnicities of the victims (three working-class Latinos and two members of the gunman’s family, both of Middle Eastern descent) helped bury the story.

But it’s also possible that Newtown hasn't changed the politics around gun control as much as advocates for stronger regulations would like to believe. The defeat of gun control legislation in the Senate earlier this year appears to have taken much of the energy out of the gun control movement nationally.

With no forward momentum in Washington, community leaders in Santa Monica have been left asking questions, and calling for unity and support.

“How do we make sense of the senseless? Comprehend the incomprehensible?” Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said at a memorial service at a church on Sunday, according to Patch. The former mayor of Santa Monica, Bloom lives blocks away from the site of the shooting.

“Today, at this moment, we cannot know why,” Bloom said at the service. “Therefore it is today that we must be close to one another.”

Speakers delivered similar messages encouraging students to maintain hope in the face of tragedy at the SMC graduation on Tuesday evening, and the SMC foundation has set up memorial funds for the families of the victims who were killed on its campus.

But when it comes to passing laws that will reduce gun violence in this country, it’s hard to find reason for hope. There are a number of bills moving forward in the California legislature that will further strengthen gun control laws here, but the continued failure to pass national legislation makes it easier for illegal weapons to cross into the state. (Police are still tracing the Santa Monica shooter’s guns to determine how a person with a history of mental issues was able to obtain an assault weapon and high-capacity magazines that are already illegal in California.)

On Friday, in conjunction with the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, members of families of victims of the Newtown shooting will begin a national bus tour to urge Senators to take a second look at the background check bill that they failed to pass this spring.

Waxman met with the families in Washington recently, and he said they’re right to focus their attention on a measure requiring universal background checks on gun sales — which 90 percent of Americans support, polls say.

They’re also right to focus on Congress’s upper chamber.

“The Senate should be easier than the House,” Waxman conceded, “because we don't even know if the Republicans that run the House will even take up the issue.”

Will the six-month anniversary of Newtown on Friday bring out news cameras? Will the family’s bus tour help revive the stalled Toomey-Manchin amendment in the Senate?


But if the absence of any national reaction to last Friday’s shooting spree is any indication of how much energy Americans are willing to devote to this issue, well, the Newtown families might as well stay home.