Biden consoles a shaken Monterey Park community in California visit.
Monterey Park: The president honors families, victims of mass shooting and unveils order on guns.
By Kaitlyn Schallhorn, Clara Harter, Teresa Liu, Ryan Carter, Jeff Horseman, and Christina Merino | Staff writers
President Joe Biden greets people at the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley in Monterey Park, where he introduced a new executive order aimed at controlling gun violence in the wake of the Jan. 21 mass shooting in the city. SARAH REINGEWIRTZ —STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
President Joe Biden on Tuesday visited Monterey Park, a city recovering from a Jan. 21 mass shooting that left 11 dead and which after a “tragedy that has pierced the soul of this nation” has become a new front in the administration’s efforts to curb gun violence.
Just blocks away from where the gunman’s nighttime rampage began amid the city’s Lunar New Year celebration, Biden touted and consoled a shaken but resilient tightknit immigrant community while unveiling the latest effort to quell gun violence in America’s cities and towns: He announced an executive order aimed at going as far as possible toward universal background checks on gun purchases. But he did it while also renewing a call for Congress to revive expired federal legislation that bans assault weapons.
“Let’s finish the job. Ban assault weapons. Ban them again. Do it now. Enough. Do something. Do something big,” he said inside a gym at the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley, where roughly 200 had packed in, including local leaders, residents and advocates who have long waited for such action.
The eager crowd came to a hush as one by one, amid only the din of air conditioners and a baby crying, the president described each victim of the shooting, reading off their names along with facts about them.
“They represent a bigger story of who we are as Americans, embodying the simple truth that our diversity — our diversity is the strength of this nation,” he said.
But as the scope of gun violence across the nation only widens, Biden turned to something he could do without Congress: signing an executive measure.
“We remember and mourn today, but I am here with you today to act,” he said.
The executive order — titled “Reducing Gun Violence and Making Our Communities Safer”— instructs the attorney general to ensure gun sellers are conducting background checks as required under law and clarify just who can be “engaged in the business” of dealing firearms.
It’s focused on beefing up background checks to buy guns, promoting more secure firearms storage and ensuring law enforcement agencies get more out of a bipartisan gun control law passed after the killings of 10 shoppers at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store and 19students and two teachers at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school.
While Biden’s order doesn’t change the government’s policy, it seeks to ensure fewer guns will be obtained by felons or domestic abusers, senior administration officials said.
Brandon Tsay, who disarmed the Monterey Park gunman when he later appeared at an Alhambra dance studio, speaks at Tuesday’s presidential event. EVAN VUCCI — THEASSOCIATED PRESS
Additionally, Biden’s executive order seeks to improve federal support for families, first responders and communities after a mass shooting.
Pointing to Federal Emergency Management Agency responses to natural disasters, senior administration officials said Biden wants to see greater coordination among federal agencies to provide short- and long-term aid, such as mental health or financial resources, to communities grappling with mass shootings.
“We need to provide more mental health support and grief — for grief and trauma — and more financial assistance when a family loses the sole breadwinner or when a small business shuts down due to a lengthy shooting investigation,” Biden said, to applause.
In Monterey Park, the gunman — 72-year-old Huu Can Tran — used a semi-automatic handgun that was purchased in Monterey Park but not registered in California, authorities said. Investigators found hundreds of rounds of ammunition and items authorities believe were being used to make homemade firearm suppressors at the gunman’s home, officials said.
Biden’s order met with approval from local leaders, eager to see action in the wake of the tragedy.
“He should never of had a weapon that was made for war, nor should have the shooters in Half Moon Bay, Buffalo, Uvalde,” said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena, who hails from Monterey Park, referring to the gunman. “This carnage must end, and that’s why we must pass a national assault rifle weapons ban.”
Others on Tuesday acknowledged that the effort will not be easy.
“Despite the good that the executive order will bring, we all know that there will be more work to do,” said Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California. “This includes bringing back universal background checks and banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”
Biden’s remarks came in front of a friendly crowd both inside and outside of the gym, which is not far from the Star Ballroom Dance Studio, where the shooting occurred.
Yellow-, white- and blue-striped walls and basketball hoops lined the perimeter of the gym. Many were dressed in red, with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action shirts as well purple Brady shirts, referencing James Brady, the late press secretary for President Ronald Reagan who was shot and severely injured in an assassination attempt on Reagan.
Brady became a gun control advocate, establishing the campaign in his name.
A memorial for the victims hanging right outside the gym showed their dancing silhouettes: “In Heaven We Dance,” it read. “In Loving Memory.”
While many welcomed Biden’s action, there were signs of another perspective on reducing gun violence.
California GOP Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson agreed that “what happened in Monterey Park was a tragedy.” But she added: “If Democrats want to lead by example and
make our communities safer, they could start by rethinking the several Republican public safety bills that they recently blocked in Sacramento. Ideas that California Democrats rejected include enhanced consequences for those who use a gun in violent crimes, making sexual assault a violent felony, and providing more transparency on how the state decides to release an inmate early.”
The massacre has shaken the city, known for its diversity, its culinary destinations, its intergenerational ties and its peace. Biden acknowledged as much, as he praised the city as “a place of refuge where immigrants have lived for years, supported new immigrants who just arrived, becoming not just friends but family.”
While life has gotten back to some semblance of normal, the memory is still fresh and businesses continue to feel the impact of the tragedy as customers haven’t fully come back to the rattled city.
But as it emerges from the shooting, leaders are hopeful that the federal government will help bolster mental health resources and establish anti-violence reforms that reduce the chance of such a tragedy ever happening again.
“If ever the United States of America needed to find a source of strength, it’s found right here in the community of Monterey Park, California,” said Padilla.
Biden celebrated that resiliency in his speech. Since the shooting, Biden has praised the courage of San Marino resident Brandon Tsay, who emerged as a hero after disarming the gunman at his family’s Alhambra dance studio and kicking him out, likely preventing more death. Tsay, a guest at the president’s State of the Union in February, was once again praised by the president on Tuesday.
“We saw that strength in Brandon Tsay,” he said, asking Tsay to stand up to thunderous applause.
He noted that resiliency in the Academy Award-winning “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which swept the Oscars on Sunday night, adding that it echoed “the heart of so many in this community.”
“We saw that strength in Maria Liang, owner of Star Ballroom, who I want to thank for pouring her heart into creating a warm and welcome space to bring the community together, especially seniors,” he said.
Along with Liang, Biden also spent time after his remarks meeting with families before departing.
Biden’s visit to Monterey Park was part of a three-day visit to the West, which started in San Diego, where he held a mini summit with leaders from the United Kingdom and Australia and where it will end with a visit Wednesday in Las Vegas, where he will remark on new actions his administration is taking to lower health care costs.
As his motorcade departed the area, amid the friendly waves and smiles was a person who waved an anti-Biden sign.
Regardless, the visit to Monterey Park made its mark.
“It demonstrates that as a community, we are not forgotten,” said Monterey Park Council member Henry Lo, who as mayor led the city through the dark days after the massacre.