First published in the May 28 print issue of the Glendale News Press.
By Zane Hill and Oscar Areliz
Numbness, sympathy and anger resonated from local officials this week as they, along with the rest of the nation, continue to process the mass shooting in Texas this week that killed 21.
The emotional toll was in part because it was the third high-profile mass shooting — one at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, which killed 10 and wounded three, and another at a church in Laguna Woods that killed one and wounded five — in 11 days. It was also because this tragedy, which occurred at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, counted 19 children among the dead.
In opening this week’s City Council meeting, Mayor Ardy Kassakhian fought through his emotions as he addressed the city.
“I did not think I was going to have to talk about something like this as your mayor, at least I hoped I wouldn’t. That was seriously one of my hopes,” he said.
“I was angry after Buffalo — incredibly angry,” Kassakhian continued. “Now, as a parent, I’m just numb.”
Superintendent Vivian Ekchian with the Glendale Unified School District sent out a newsletter Tuesday evening that includes multiple links to resources to assist families in discussing the tragedy with their children. She noted that teachers were also made aware of these resources, which include the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Common Sense Media.
“Our hearts go out to the students, families and staff at Robb Elementary,” Ekchian wrote, referring to the Uvalde school. “As educators and as parents, it is difficult to comprehend such traumatic events. It can be challenging to know exactly what to say to a child following a national tragedy.”
Ekchian also reminded families that the district continues to run exercises and drills for a variety of emergency situations, including for active shooters. All GUSD schools also boast secured gates and video cameras, and visitors do not have open access to sites. District staff members also routinely conduct safety walkthroughs and assessments at facilities.
“As these tragic shootings seem to be taking place with alarming frequency, it is important for us to work together as a community to ensure our schools are safe,” Ekchian said. “I want to assure parents and families that we are doing everything in our power to protect your children and our employees on our campuses.”
Kassakhian — who noted the Laguna Hills victim, Dr. John Cheng, was a colleague of his sister-in-law’s — explained that, on an official trip to Las Vegas last week, he’d begun to write down his thoughts on the Buffalo shooting, in which the alleged gunman targeted Black victims after outlining his motivations in a racist manifesto published online.
“When I was writing about the Buffalo mass shooting, I was reflecting on my job as mayor, on the idea of friends, neighbors, people we see every day at the store or on the street here in Glendale being taken from us, being snuffed out, being killed, and the idea is simply horrifying,” he said. “Nothing can be more heartbreaking, but it continues to happen. It happens because we put the lives of our neighbors second to our political debates and satisfying our personal egos.”
President Joe Biden cut his trip to Asia short and returned to the White House as soon as he heard about the shooting and addressed the nation from the Roosevelt Room Tuesday evening.
“I had hoped, when I became president, I would not have to do this again,” he said. “Another massacre. Uvalde, Texas. An elementary school. Beautiful, innocent, 2nd, 3rd, 4th graders. And how many scores of little children who witnessed what happened, see their friends die as if they’re on a battlefield, for God’s sake. They’ll live with it the rest of their lives.”
After mourning the loss of 19 children and two teachers, Biden then shifted to the ongoing debate of gun control.
“As a nation, we have to ask: When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby? When in God’s name will we do what we all know in our gut needs to be done?” Biden said. “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom is heeding the president’s call to action and pledged to fast-track more than a dozen bills “to protect people from gun violence” following the shooting in Uvalde.
“We’re going to control the controllable, the things we have control of,” Newsom, alongside other Democratic leaders, said at the state Capitol on Wednesday. “California leads this national conversation. When California moves, other states move in the same direction.”
Newsom said he may use an emergency clause to expedite the process but hopes to sign off on most of the bills by next month.
One of those measures passed by the state Senate Tuesday was Senate Bill 1327, which was co-authored by Sen. Anthony Portantino and would allow citizens to sue anyone who manufacturers, sells, distributes, transports or imports assault weapons or any .50 BMG rifle into the state. The bill passed with a 24-10 vote and will now make its way to the Assembly.
The bill was modeled on the structure of a recent Texas law that prohibits abortion six weeks into a woman’s pregnancy and allows anyone to file a lawsuit against anyone who provides or aids an abortion.
“Today we witnessed another tragic school shooting,” Portantino, who represents Glendale, said in a statement. “We have a gun violence epidemic in this country. The continued need to adopt sensible solutions to our nation’s tragic history of gun violence is dire and necessary. We must continue to take swift and meaningful steps toward combatting this epidemic in our country and improve public safety for all Californians.”
Kassakhian, too, tasked state and federal officials with taking steps to stymie the future likelihood of mass shootings and derided politicians who accept money from gun lobbyists and block proposed gun control legislation. He also alluded to the growing prominence of far-right and other extremist groups often seen wielding rifles and adopting militant posturing at demonstrations they are participating in or monitoring.
“We refuse to do anything about it. We let a minority of louder voices set the agenda. There are people out there in our country right now who think that the use of violence is a legitimate means of political discourse,” Kassakhian said. “They really think that. Nothing good happens at the apex of mental illness and guns — nothing. There are people out there in our country right now who actually think that whatever they can’t get out of life, they can get from using weapons — not for protection, not for hunting, but for gratification.
“The next mass shooting is going to happen again,” he continued. “As your mayor, I wish I could tell you it can’t happen here. I really wish I could. But it could happen here, too. Glendale could find itself to be another Pittsburgh, another El Paso, another Las Vegas, another Orlando, Newtown, Parkland, Aurora, Buffalo, Laguna Woods and Uvalde. But we don’t have to live like this. Maybe it’s time for us to be the louder voice before it happens again.”