After mass shooting, Monterey Park limited gun sales. But local laws alone won’t stop violence

Jack Brandhorst handles a rifle among others on display
Jack Brandhorst, owner of Red Rifle Ltd., handles a firearm at the gun store in Carson.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Six months after a gunman killed 11 people at a Monterey Park dance studio, the City Council unanimously approved legislation to drastically limit where gun dealers are permitted in the San Gabriel Valley enclave.

The battle over gun rights has filled headlines and courtrooms, and yet no one showed up at City Hall to address the ordinance. No residents, no advocates, no lawyers.

Arming America logo with gun and pricetag

Most Americans live within 10 minutes of a gun store. The Los Angeles Times set out to determine whether easy availability is a key driver of gun violence — but it’s not that simple. This series explores the complex relationship between firearm access and gun crime.

“We didn’t really have any public comment,” Mayor Jose Sanchez said, adding that he received only “one or two emails” after the August vote. “Either it was a slow night or people just didn’t oppose it.”

Cities across Los Angeles County are considering — and in many cases approving — sweeping changes to how and where they allow firearms dealers to operate. Meanwhile, daily gun violence and mass shootings continue. Just Wednesday, a gunman opened fire at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, killing three people.


Some municipalities, including Burbank, have instituted temporary moratoriums on new gun dealers to allow officials time to deliberate over more permanent solutions. Others, including Torrance, have restricted where dealers can open.

A memorial for the 11 shooting victims in front of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park in January 2023.
A memorial for the 11 shooting victims in front of the Star Ballroom Dance Studio in Monterey Park in January 2023.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Even so, some of the boldest changes have limited effect and are going largely unnoticed, The Times has found in a months-long exploration of gun access in America that incorporated more than 100 interviews and volumes of public records. In Monterey Park, the shooter killed his victims with a semiautomatic handgun that is banned in California today but was legal when he purchased it more than two decades ago.

Researchers have begun to explore the influence of firearms dealers on nearby violence, and their findings are complicated. There’s little evidence that barring retailers from certain neighborhoods or requiring them to install video cameras, for example, can significantly drive down gun violence.

Only large-scale changes in the number of firearms dealers across multiple neighboring counties had a meaningful impact on local gun homicides, the researchers found.

“The average effect is actually quite small,” said David Johnson, associate professor of economics at the University of Central Missouri.

And yet new regulations keep coming.

Efforts to keep gun stores out of particular cities or neighborhoods are rooted in an assumption that more dealers equals more shootings. It’s a commonsense theory, given that most guns are sold by a licensed dealer before ending up on the streets and that people often purchase guns near their homes.

Jack Brandhorst is the owner of Red Rifle Ltd.
Jack Brandhorst wanted to move his Red Rifle gun shop from Carson to Torrance.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

A report this year by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives found that between 2017 and 2021, only about one-third of the guns traced by law enforcement after being used in crimes were recovered within 10 miles of the dealers that sold them.

Johnson’s 2021 study found that one additional dealer per 100 square miles in a county corresponds with a 2% increase in gun homicides in that county two years later. When the number of dealers in neighboring counties also rises at the same rate, the increase in gun homicides jumps to 4%.

The Times corroborated Johnson’s findings with a similar national analysis, using the ATF’s list of federal firearms licenses and mortality data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to estimate the effect of dealer density on gun homicides. One additional dealer per 100 square miles in a county and its neighboring counties corresponded to a 4.8% increase in the initial county’s homicides, according to the Times analysis.

The findings suggest that achieving a meaningful reduction in homicides in L.A. County would require more than 160 cities across Los Angeles, its four neighboring counties and their nearly 35,000 square miles to combine efforts to dramatically reduce the number of gun retailers in the region. Monterey Park — at about eight square miles — accounts for just one tiny piece of the puzzle.

“There needs to be some sort of cooperation across jurisdictions,” Johnson said.

Gun businesses, like localities, are not all the same. Some shops have firearms dealer licenses but only repair guns. Others sell just a few guns per year from residential garages or basements. Large retailers can move hundreds a week.


Turner’s Outdoorsman, for example, has more than 30 locations across California. The company’s Norwalk outpost sold more than 102,000 guns from 2010 to 2022, of which more than 1,400 — about 1.4% — were later recovered by law enforcement as what are known as crime guns, firearms possessed illegally or found after commission of a crime or suspected crime. The Bakersfield location sold about 6,000 firearms during the same period, of which 22 — about 0.4% — were crime guns.

Dealers also vary in their adherence to regulations, but comprehensive data on compliance do not exist.

Dan Semenza, director of interpersonal violence research at the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center, found there were more shootings near dealers with serious violations of gun regulations than near those that complied with the rules. Examples of such violations include selling guns to people prohibited from owning them and failing to report multiple-firearm transactions to the ATF.

Between 2016 and 2018, homicides nearly doubled for each additional noncompliant dealer nearby, Semenza found using homicide data from Franklin County, Ohio, and limited ATF inspection data made public during a lawsuit.

“These stores, especially the bad ones, are contributing to the markets that are ultimately fueling a lot of illegal weapons,” he said.

Mourners take part in a candlelight vigil
Mourners take part in a vigil for the Monterey Park shooting victims in January 2023.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In the wake of the Jan. 21 Monterey Park mass shooting, officials took bold steps to limit firearms in L.A. County’s unincorporated areas. On Feb. 7, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a package of gun-related ordinances, including bans on sales of certain high-caliber guns and ammunition, and on carrying guns on county property. The board also approved measures directing staff and counsel to draft additional ordinances aimed at reining in gun dealers.

In October, the supervisors considered an ordinance mandating that gun stores have security cameras, maintain new sales and inventory reports, and deny entry to unaccompanied minors, among other requirements. No one showed up to make a public comment in person, and only one community member spoke remotely — about the role mental health problems play in gun violence. The board unanimously voted to approve the measure.

Last month, only five members of the public voiced their opinions remotely during a hearing on a county ordinance to establish a buffer zone barring new firearms dealers from opening within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, day-care centers, libraries and other gun stores. Again, the supervisors voted unanimously for the measure.

Had those regulations been in place in January, they would have done nothing to save the lives extinguished by Huu Can Tran, the gunman in the Monterey Park shooting.

Tran killed his victims with a modified Cobray model CM11-9 pistol, L.A. County Sheriff Robert Luna said shortly after the massacre. The handgun, with its threaded barrel and ability to take a high-capacity magazine, falls under California’s assault weapons ban.

But the 72-year-old, who killed himself the day after the shooting, had legally purchased the firearm in February 1999 from a gun store in Monterey Park that has since closed, Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Nicole Nishida said in an email.

As cities across Southern California imposed restrictions on local firearms dealers, Jack Brandhorst came face-to-face with this new reality. Last year, he tried to relocate his small gun shop, Red Rifle Ltd., from a drab industrial park in Carson to Torrance’s downtown.

Jack Brandhorst, owner of the gun shop Red Rifle in Carson, speaks during a Torrance planning commission meeting.
Brandhorst, the gun shop owner, speaks during a Torrance planning commission meeting on Sept. 21, 2022.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

In September 2022, he spoke at a well-attended Torrance planning commission meeting. Two months earlier, the city had granted Brandhorst a permit to do business in the walkable shopping district. But after several residents filed formal appeals, the city was reconsidering Brandhorst’s plan.

There was no gun store buffer zone or moratorium on the books that would have barred Brandhorst from opening in Torrance. But he did need a special development permit if he wanted to be downtown.

For 15 minutes, the gun seller answered questions from planning commissioners about the safety protocols his store follows to help prevent gun violence. He described his vision of Red Rifle as “another boutique, elegant shop” integrated into the downtown community.

“Go get your biscuits and gravy from Clutch and Coffee, get that — mmm mmm mmm — chicken and waffles from Local Kitchen,” he said, naming two downtown Torrance eateries. “And then come by and pick you up a Glock and some bullets.”

The gun dealer’s desired location was next door to Local Kitchen and two doors down from a performing arts school. Dozens of stores, offices and residences are within a few blocks’ radius. There’s an elementary school about a mile away and a high school half a mile away.

Red Rifle sells a variety of handguns and other firearms.
Red Rifle sells a variety of handguns and other firearms.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Red Rifle sold 5,858 guns between 2010 and 2022, according to a June report by the state Department of Justice. Of those, 59, or just over 1%, were later recovered as crime guns in California.

Katherine Kaopua owns a cheerleading and tumbling center about a block from the century-old former salon where Red Rifle intended to move.

As one of the four residents who formally appealed the issuance of a special development permit for the gun dealer, she told the commission about a 1986 shooting she said demonstrated the risks of selling guns in downtown Torrance.

That April, a man stole a loaded gun from a since-closed sporting goods store near the proposed Red Rifle location. He went out onto the street and began firing at Torrance police officers who had responded to the scene, striking and killing 25-year-old Officer Thomas Keller.

Today, there’s a small memorial park named after Keller visible from the windows of the storefront Brandhorst was eyeing.

Thomas Keller Memorial Park in Torrance.
Thomas Keller Memorial Park is across the street from the storefront in downtown Torrance where Jack Brandhorst, owner of the Red Rifle gun shop in Carson, hoped to move his business.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“A police officer shot in the line of duty because there was an active shooter that stole a gun and ammo from a local downtown Torrance store,” Kaopua told the planning commission.

In the end, the commission voted 5 to 2 to grant the appeal and deny Red Rifle its permit. After the hearing, Brandhorst vowed to appeal the decision to the full City Council.

Past midnight on Nov. 16, 2022, after hours of testimony and debate, the council voted 6 to 1 to uphold the appeal. Brandhorst would not be allowed to fulfill his dream of operating a gun store in downtown Torrance.

“These City Council people placated to the squeaky wheels,” he said afterward. “There’s no law or rule that limits gun stores in that area.”

Jack Brandhorst wanted to move his gun shop to this storefront in downtown Torrance.
Brandhorst wanted to move his gun shop to this storefront in downtown Torrance, pictured in September 2022.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Shortly after the November decision, Torrance’s council had city staff study downtown zoning regulations. In May, after reviewing the staff’s findings, the council approved a new restriction on where gun dealers can operate.

As of June, the regulation stated, a special development permit is no longer needed to open a business in downtown Torrance. But it also enumerated a list of business types that are no longer allowed downtown.

The list includes establishments such as drive-through restaurants, check-cashing shops — and gun stores.

Generations of racist economic policies and inequitable social structures correspond to higher rates of gun crime in certain areas, according to Jorja Leap, a professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and co-founder of the Watts Leadership Institute.

For example, neighboring Forsyth and Fulton counties in Georgia each had dozens more nearby dealers in 2019 than in 2009. While Fulton County’s homicide rate increased by 90%, Forsyth County’s declined by 30%. Home to Atlanta, Fulton County also has a much higher percentage of Black residents and residents in poverty than Forsyth County, and more than 25 times its homicide rate.

A member of the public holds up a sticker during a Torrance planning commission meeting.
A member of the public holds up a sticker during a Torrance planning commission meeting in September 2022.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

“People are poor. People don’t have resources. They don’t have mental health services,” Leap said. “A 12-year-old has lost a parent, or parents have walked out. He doesn’t go to therapy to deal with his feelings of anxiety and depression. He gets a gun.”


The Times analysis found that the relationship between dealer proximity and gun homicides is strongest in places with concentrated poverty, large Black populations and existing high homicide rates. In counties where more than a fifth of residents are in poverty, the 4.8% increase in homicides jumps to more than 7%.

Aqeela Sherrills, a former member of L.A.’s Grape Street Crips set, grew up in a family of gang members in Watts. Sherrills saw his best friend shot and killed in ninth grade and is a survivor of sexual violence. He knows what it feels like to want a gun for protection.

“Poverty and trauma underscore violence,” said Sherrills, who is now a prominent advocate for safer communities. “Just 2% of the population is responsible for 80% of the harm.”

Man speaks before an indoor audience
Aqeela Sherrills addresses a gathering of the Community Violence Intervention Collaborative at the White House’s Eisenhower Executive Office Building in December 2022.
(Associated Press)

Without social services, a fair justice system and community investment, he said, the cycle of poverty and violence continues and “small incidents turn into all-out war.”

Paul Carrillo says he “grew up in a pretty violent community in South L.A.” His father was a gang member, so he joined up when he was 14 years old. Over time he realized there was no future in that life.

Now, three decades later, Carrillo is vice president of the Giffords Center for Violence Intervention, where he pushes federal and state representatives to fund local support services.


“How accessible firearms are to Black and brown people who are willing to use them is a huge problem,” he said. But “just regulating guns in and of itself is not going to solve everything. … There’s still poverty, there’s still police violence, there’s still homelessness and all that. So it’s not one or the other. It’s both.”

The harsh reality, Carrillo said, is that guns are big business: “There’s definitely people who don’t give a crap that it’s Black and brown [people] killing each other while they’re making money.”

But Michael Eberhardt, the ATF’s former firearms operations division chief, said he thinks it’s possible to move the needle. He said he believes making guns more expensive, instituting waiting periods and even providing dealers with reports detailing crimes involving the guns they sold could make a difference.

“Gun dealers are mentally disconnected from violent gun crime. They just see it on the news,” he said. “They don’t correlate their own actions with violent gun crime. But we can change that.”