What Comes After a Mass Shooting

Wednesday: “Mayors don’t have the luxury of offering prayers and platitudes,” Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose said.,

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ImageThe mother of Jose Dejesus Hernandez, a victim of the San Jose shooting, places flowers and mourns during a vigil last week in front of San Jose City Hall.
The mother of Jose Dejesus Hernandez, a victim of the San Jose shooting, places flowers and mourns during a vigil last week in front of San Jose City Hall.Credit…Mike Kai Chen for The New York Times

Good morning.

A week ago, a gunman opened fire at a San Jose rail yard, killing nine of his colleagues before apparently killing himself. Some eight miles away, the gunman’s home had been set ablaze.

Although officials are still trying to piece together exactly what happened that morning and why — a task that may never really be complete — the details that have emerged are gutting, in part because they were predictable in a nation where such mass shootings have become a numbing routine.

The gunman had for years complained about his job at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, telling his ex-wife that he wished he could kill his co-workers and writing about his hatred for the agency in a notebook once flagged by border officials as he returned from a trip. He was described by colleagues, neighbors and former partners as an emotionally volatile, likely mentally ill loner.

Victims’ loved ones described the shattering sudden loss of parents, spouses and friends who were merely starting an ordinary work day when they were killed.

This wasn’t the first time San Jose’s mayor, Sam Liccardo, had been called upon to comfort community members grieving for loved ones killed in a mass shooting.

In 2019, “we lost two children,” he told me on Tuesday, referring to the deaths of two young city residents during a shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Now, as then, Liccardo said, the first priority has been to ensure that survivors and families have access to counseling and support. But he said he also feels urgency to enact policies that might stem the tide of gun violence — even if long-sought federal gun control legislation has been elusive.

“Mayors don’t have the luxury of offering prayers and platitudes,” he said. “People expect concrete actions.”

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The investigation continues into last week’s shooting that left nine transportation authority employees dead, as well as the gunman who took his own life.Credit…Jim Wilson/The New York Times

To that end, Liccardo said, he hoped the San Jose City Council would approve, by the end of the year, a first-in-the-nation requirement that gun owners in the city insure their weapons or pay fees to keep them. The idea, he explained, is that guns are contributing to a public health crisis — and it’s expensive.

Liccardo said that requiring drivers to carry auto insurance has helped cut down on fatalities from car crashes, so having the private insurance industry get involved would help incentivize responsible gun ownership and defray the cost of gun violence to taxpayers, who pay for emergency and law enforcement services.

The mayor first proposed the idea in 2019 in the wake of the Gilroy shooting, but he said the pandemic delayed progress on the measure.

“We were working with an epidemiologist at the county, so we put that aside,” he said. “Now, I think we’re ready to come back.”

Of course, gun laws at every level have faced intense and sustained legal challenges. Liccardo told me he’s “not delusional” about the fact that a gun regulation ordinance would require a vigorous legal defense. But he said that city-level policy changes could provide ideas that Congress and even the state legislature would not be nimble enough to enact.

“No one would say that it would be ideal for each city to come up with its own policies,” he said. “But we recognize that cities can be laboratories for policy innovation.”

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The population of Western monarch butterflies that winter in California has been dwindling. So a coalition of conservation groups has hatched a plan: Grow a lot more milkweed. The plant, according to the U.S. Forest Service, is “Nature’s mega food market for insects.”


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Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.

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