Editorial: Gilroy Garlic Festival killings are part of a sick American tradition

Festival volunteer Denise Buessing, left, embraces fellow volunteer Marsha Struzik on Sunday at a reunification center in a parking lot at Gavilan College in Gilroy.
(Josie Lepe / Associated Press)

Two American traditions — summer celebrations and gun violence — collided in jarring fashion over the weekend.

Here in California, a man armed with a military-style rifle snuck through a perimeter fence at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival and opened fire late Sunday afternoon, killing three people, two of them children, while a dozen others were wounded or injured fleeing the pandemonium. Police on Monday morning were trying to determine why the gunman, identified as Santino William Legan, 19, of Gilroy, decided to shoot up the festival.

A day earlier and on the other side of the continent, gunmen opened fire during a neighborhood Old Timers Day celebration in a Brooklyn, N.Y., park, killing one person and wounding or injuring 11 others. Police were investigating whether the incident was gang-related.


As a nation, we’ve become slowly accustomed to such senseless violence, with attacks on houses of worship, on schools, at workplaces and on family members. Just last week, police in Los Angeles arrested Gerry Dean Zaragoza after he allegedly shot three family members in Canoga Park, killing two of them, then shot a former girlfriend and a man at a gas station, killing the woman. Then later still, police say, he shot dead a stranger on a bus. Separately, an off-duty Los Angeles police officer grabbing a late taco with his girlfriend and her two brothers in Lincoln Heights confronted a graffiti tagger and was shot and killed.

The inevitable debates after Gilroy will touch on the usual themes. It wasn’t the gun, it was the poison in the man’s mind. There’s some truth to that, given that firearms are inanimate objects. But without a firearm, the man couldn’t have shot anyone. And without the semiautomatic function of the firearm, he couldn’t have shot so many so quickly. And military-style rifles like the one used Sunday are conceived and designed for battlefields and it’s preposterous to sell them for hunting or “self-defense.”

The violence, of course, won’t move President Trump or Congress to act. Trump tweeted Monday that the shooting was “horrific” and said we should continue to “work together as communities and citizens” to prevent violence. But in fact he has done virtually nothing to address our long-running national scourge. He has fallen into the full embrace of the National Rifle Assn. in ways no other recent president has done. “You have a true friend in the White House,” he told the NRA two years ago, after the group spent $30 million to help get him elected.

In truth, the fault is not Trump’s alone. Successive administrations, and Congresses, have failed to break the gun lobby’s stranglehold on federal gun policies. And so the nation will continue to suffer gunshot wounds by the dozens each day, and by the tens of thousands each year. And something so harmless as a celebration of garlic, or of a Brooklyn neighborhood, will continue to carry the possibility of violent death.