Biden consoles Monterey Park over mass shooting, signs order to curb gun violence

A man with gray hair, in a blue suit, hugs another man as they are surrounded by other people.
President Biden meets with a Monterey Park community member on March 14, 2023.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

President Biden on Tuesday signed an executive order to curb gun violence and enhance background checks on firearms buyers, spending part of the afternoon consoling a Monterey Park community devastated by a mass shooting on the eve of Lunar New Year in January.

“I’m here on behalf of the American people to mourn with you, to pray with you, to let you know you are loved and not alone,” Biden told about 200 people in the gymnasium of a Boys & Girls Club. “I know what it’s like to get that call.... I know what it’s like to lose a loved one so suddenly. It’s like losing a piece of your soul.”

Biden’s visit took place less than half a mile from a dance studio where 11 people were killed and nine wounded on the night of Jan. 21. The gunman moved on to another dance hall in Alhambra, where he was disarmed by Brandon Tsay.


Tsay, 26, who was Biden’s guest at the State of the Union address before Congress in February, met the president at Los Angeles International Airport on Tuesday and received sustained applause when Biden praised him at the gathering.

A man in a dark suit and striped red tie gestures as he speaks before microphones, with U.S. flags behind him
President Biden at the Boys & Girls Club of West San Gabriel Valley in Monterey Park on March 14, 2023.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

“In an instant, he found the courage to act and wrestle a semiautomatic firearm out of the way,” Biden said. “Brandon saved lives and protected the community.”

Brandon Tsay stopped the Monterey Park mass shooter by wresting a MAC-10 from the gunman. Now he’s trying to find his purpose in life.

Feb. 7, 2023

Biden spoke for about 20 minutes before meeting privately with first responders and the victims’ family members.

The president is on a three-day trip to California and Nevada. On Monday, he met with leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom in San Diego. On Wednesday, he is expected to discuss efforts to reduce the cost of prescription drugs in Las Vegas. He attended a fundraiser Monday evening in Rancho Santa Fe, where he raised $1 million for the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Grassroots Victory Fund from about 40 donors, according to a DNC official. On Tuesday night, he raised more than $1 million for the two groups at an event in the Tournament Hills community in Las Vegas.

Biden’s visit to Monterey Park comes as the U.S. has already seen 110 mass shootings so far in 2023, according to the independent data collection and research group Gun Violence Archive. The group defines a mass shooting as an incident with four or more people injured or killed. The Jan. 21 shooting at Star Ballroom Dance Studio was one of three mass shootings to grip California in just eight days.


On Tuesday, Biden signed an executive order directing U.S. Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland to ensure that licensed gun dealers are aware and conduct the required background checks before purchases, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters Monday, ahead of the announcement. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed into law in June, requires federally licensed gun dealers to run background checks on buyers.

The latest action stops short of Biden’s call for universal background checks, but White House officials contend that it will increase the number of gun dealers who are compliant without additional legislation. Biden will also ask Garland to develop a plan to bar gun dealers whose federal licenses have been revoked from continuing to sell firearms.

The president also directed his Cabinet to develop a plan to help communities in the aftermath of a mass shooting, much like how the Federal Emergency Management Agency mobilizes resources after a natural disaster.

He will also encourage a federal government study that “analyzes and exposes how gun manufacturers aggressively market firearms to civilians, especially minors, including by using military imagery.”

A woman in a red jacket is flanked by another woman and a man near a display of white flowers indoors
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis, center, is among those who listened to President Biden speak at the Boys & Girls Club in Monterey Park.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
A man with dark hair, in a dark suit and blue tie, waves
Brandon Tsay, who stopped the dance studio mass shooter on Jan. 21, 2023, waves as President Biden praises his bravery during a visit to Monterey Park on Tuesday.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The executive order also calls for raising awareness of “red flag” laws, which allow police to confiscate weapons from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, as well as for safe storage of guns to prevent them from falling into the hands of children.

Biden acknowledged that those executive actions do not go far enough, and called on Congress to take more aggressive action.

“Let’s be clear. None of this absolves Congress from the responsibility ... to pass universal background checks, eliminate gun manufacture immunity. And I’m determined to once again ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines,” he said.

While serving in the U.S. Senate, Biden joined Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California in leading the successful effort to ban assault weapons in 1994. Mass shootings declined over the next decade. The law expired in 2004 and has not been renewed. Mass shootings have tripled since then, Biden said.

“Enough. Do something,” he urged Congress. “Do something big.”

Such measures appear to have no chance of passing the GOP-controlled House.

Biden has instead resorted to unilateral action to try to further tackle gun violence. In 2021, Biden directed his administration to tighten restrictions on so-called ghost guns, untraceable weapons that can be assembled from parts purchased online.

During his visit to Monterey Park, Biden said the tragedy that unfolded in the tight-knit Asian American community “pierced the soul of this nation.”


He noted that people of all backgrounds and ages had bonded over their love of ballroom dance and music, and the night was extra special because of the celebration of the Lunar New Year.

“But as we all saw, a day of festivity and light turned into a day of fear and darkness,” he said. “Vibrant dances and music were replaced by vigils and memorials.”

Biden recited the name of each person who was killed, describing their importance to the community and the joy they brought to their families and loved ones.

“I promise you the day will come when the memory of your loved one brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye,” said Biden, who lost his first wife and a daughter in car crash in 1972 and a son to cancer in 2015. “That’s when you know you’re going to make it. My prayer for all of you is that day will come sooner than later.”

Mehta reported from Monterey Park and Subramanian from Washington.