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Are we living through California’s worst month for mass shootings?

The Mountain Mushroom Farm near Half Moon Bay | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

Five mass shootings have claimed the lives of 27 people in California since the first day of the year, making it a tragic month for a state known for its extensive firearm restrictions. 

The Half Moon Bay and Monterey Park shootings comprise the majority of these lives lost, with the death toll from the two mass shootings reaching 19 people by Tuesday afternoon. 

A look at historic data from the Gun Violence Archive shows that California has seen the highest number of mass shooting-related deaths than any other month since at least 2013.

Like this month, previous mass shootings have taken numerous lives in the state. In December 2015, a single terrorist attack in San Bernardino killed 16 individuals and caused dozens more injuries. And in San Jose, a mass shooting at a rail yard in 2021 took 10 lives, making it the deadliest shooting in the history of the SF Bay Area

The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shooting events as those that involve four or more injuries or deaths, which can include lesser-known incidents that result in no deaths, but numerous serious injuries—such as the one in which four people were shot in SF’s Mission District earlier this month, killing one. 

The archive notes that general gun violence—including incidents not categorized as mass shooting—has killed 12,974 people in California between 2014 and 2023, spread out across 373 mass shootings and 25 mass murders. Their data shows that roughly 4,627 people across the nation have lost their lives in mass shootings in the last 10 years. 

While 27 killings makes this month an outlier in severity, its number of mass shooting incidents is, sadly, not that uncommon.

A National Crisis Despite Tough State Laws

This string of tragedies brings the national count up to 39 mass shootings this year, a 63% increase from the same period last year, which clocked 24 shootings between Jan. 1 and Jan. 24.

The two recent deadly shootings happened in a state well known for its rigorous gun control laws. 

California consistently ranks among the states with the lowest rates of gun violence-related deaths, with less than 10 firearm deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 1981 and 2020, California was one of only two states that reported a decline in gun deaths over time. The other was New York, another high-restriction state. 

Some experts point to efforts by legislators as one of the key factors behind the state’s relatively low firearm deaths count

With bans on assault weapons, mandatory waiting periods and background checks, gun control advocacy groups often rank California as the state with the strictest gun laws in the nation. And in September 2022, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the creation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention, designed to streamline the state’s approach to tackling gun violence. 

Gov. Gavin Newsom called Republican leaders "frauds" in dealing with gun violence legislation in the face of a mass-shooting epidemic. | Garrett Leahy/The Standard

The state’s myriad gun control laws could not prevent the two mass killings that shook California this week, however, and state officials have called on the federal government to intervene in what is largely a national crisis. But gun control lobbyists may face a steep uphill battle against federal courts, as a conservative supermajority on the Supreme Court continues to strike down proposed gun restrictions in states across the nation.  

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom called the Second Amendment a “suicide pact,” voicing frustration with political gridlock that has kept guns on the street and mass shootings a regular national occurrence. “Only in America,” Newsom said at a Half Moon Bay press conference Tuesday.