As we try to make sense of the latest mass shooting, and try to reason why and how they keep happening, for most of us, we draw a blank because it defies all logic. We simply cannot understand what makes an individual/s commit such heinous acts or what motivates hate, and how do we stop these senseless killings?
As a way of understanding, we often link cases of mass shootings to mental illness because it is easy for us to say, “well the shooter/s were mentally ill and should not have had access to guns;” but what happens when their act is motivated by hate, such as in the case of Dylann Roof, who in 2015, shot and killed nine parishioners at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina, simply because they were black and he hated black people. Could we have prevented this if his extreme racism and hatred for black people could have been recognized as a form of mental illness and his access to guns would have been limited?
Unfortunately, we cannot rely on this logic to help us identify these individuals, because extreme hatred for a person or group is not considered a form of mental illness. Therefore, it goes undetected, until it rears its ugly head like it did at the Pulse Orlando nightclub in Orlando, Florida, at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, and at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina; leaving many dead and wounded, and the nation shaking its head in disbelief.
So how do we stop these senseless killings? We must do it by disarming hate. According to Attorney General Becerra’s 2016 Hate Crime in California Report, hate crimes are on the rise in our state, and it seems to be a common trend in other cities across the country where spikes in hate crimes are also being reported. It is becoming quite obvious that individuals motivated by prejudice feel emboldened in the current climate, where radical philosophies have been given national attention since the 2016 Presidential election. This has caused tensions to rise and extreme racism, which has been lying under the surface of the American tapestry to burst forth in violence as seen recently in Charlottesville, Virginia during the “Unite the Right” rally.
In order to diffuse the hate and return to time when mass shootings were rare, it is time we revisit our hate crime laws. It was hate crimes involving firearms that drove the need for these type of laws in the United States. Actually, the first major federal protections against hate crimes were enacted in the wake of the shooting of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. However, let’s fast forward to today and even though we have made our hate crime laws stronger there is still no federal law prohibiting people convicted of violent hate crimes from having guns. Easy access to firearms gives a single, hate-filled individual the capacity to shatter numerous lives and whole communities.
Hate crime misdemeanors can be serious, violent acts, but under current law, a violent or threatening hate crime misdemeanor conviction does not prohibit someone from buying or having a gun. This is why I introduced AB 785 to keep firearms out of the hands of perpetrators of hate crimes. AB 785 or the Disarm Hate Act will prohibit criminals convicted of violent or threatening misdemeanor hate crimes from buying or having guns for ten years.
If we are tired as a nation mourning the loss of innocent victims of hate motivated shootings, tired of offering condolences to their families, tired of flying our flag at half-mast - then we MUST say no more! It is time to keep guns out of the hands of those who express extreme hatred and racist views that could lead to acts of violence against a person or persons, and adopt common-sense approaches like AB 785 to keep our homes and communities safe. It is time to disarm hate.