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EDITORIAL

Monterey Park: Yes, it can happen here

Not a minute too soon, Attorney General Andrea Campbell promises a new focus on gun safety enforcement.

Members of the community held a prayer vigil at Monterey Park City Hall on Jan. 22 for victims of a deadly shooting Saturday night in Monterey Park, Calif.Eric Thayer/Getty

This editorial has been updated with breaking news.

After every mass shooting, after the shock and the sorrow, the mourning for the victims, and the search for motive, there is the inevitable question: Could it happen here?

Monterey Park is a quiet community in a state which, like Massachusetts, has among the strictest gun laws in the nation. And yet somehow the now-deceased 72-year-old suspect in the shooting deaths of 11 people and the wounding of 10 others celebrating the Lunar New Year managed to acquire a semiautomatic pistol with an “extended large capacity magazine attached to it” that the local sheriff believes was illegal under California law.

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Monday, California experienced its second mass shooting in 72 hours when seven people were killed in Half Moon Bay by a lone gunman. A suspect is now in custody.

Gun laws, it seems, are only as good as the willingness and the ability of officials to enforce them. Where there are loopholes, there will always be those ready to exploit them. And if the loopholes aren’t enough, well, there will be those willing to ignore the laws entirely.

A recent local case in point — that of Littleton gun dealer Cory Daigle and the guns that ended up in the possession of an unlicensed 20-year-old involved in a Hyde Park shooting in which three people were wounded.

When Gustavo Rodriguez turned up at a Boston hospital in November it started a chain of events that ended with Daigle facing federal charges for selling three Glock handguns to a straw buyer that were later recovered following that shooting. Rodriguez is too young to even acquire a gun license and besides, in Massachusetts, Glocks can only be sold to law enforcement officers.

But in the gun-dealing business — yes, even in Massachusetts — where there’s a will, there’s a way.

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Daigle, according to federal prosecutors, worked with a fellow gun dealer at the Littleton warehouse that has become home to some 80 gun-dealing businesses to buy two of the Glocks in pieces, thus skirting one part of the state law. Then he is alleged to have sold to someone he knew was a straw buyer — someone with a license who was of age — knowing Rodriguez was actually the intended purchaser.

During a search of Daigle’s Revere home, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigators said they seized 95 firearms, including an Uzi machine gun he had built but not registered and parts of other machine guns, some of which are illegal to own. It’s also illegal under state law for anyone to operate a gun business out of their home.

So, yes, Daigle now faces a boatload of federal charges, and a small arsenal of weapons will no longer be headed for the streets. But complacency isn’t an option here. Neither is simply passing laws that are not being adequately enforced.

As a Globe investigation found last month, more than half of the local police departments surveyed — 62 of some 110 that were the subject of public records requests — said they had not inspected any gun dealers licensed in their communities for at least the past five years. Those 62 communities are home to 235 gun dealers who reported more than 365,000 sales since 2017, more than half of all gun sales in the state during that time.

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Local police departments constitute this state’s first line of defense against sales of either illegal weapons — those prohibited for sale to civilians — or sales to people not legally licensed to own a gun. Some departments surveyed by the Globe weren’t even aware of their responsibilities under the law to inspect gun shops — both their inventory and their paperwork — and others were unaware of the prohibition of using a “residence” to conduct business or store weapons.

So enter the new sheriff in town, well, the new attorney general, actually, Andrea Campbell, who announced in one of her first actions upon taking office the creation of an Office of Gun Safety Enforcement because, she said, “everyone, no matter where you live, should feel safe in their community.”

In her inaugural address she spoke about doing more “with our public safety agencies, district attorneys and local electeds to get illegal guns and ghost guns off our streets and disrupt cycles of violence.”

Campbell could certainly start by closing the gap with local police chiefs. Ignorance about the state’s existing gun laws and departments’ responsibilities for enforcing something as basic as inspecting gun shops should no longer be an excuse. Having those chiefs brought up to speed in their crucial role in gun law enforcement and having them report their findings directly to Campbell’s new gun safety bureau would be a good place to start. It’s one way to send the message that we are all in this together.

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When a gun dealer can hang his sign in Littleton but keep much of his “inventory” at home in Revere, and when the “product” ends up on the streets of Boston, then yes, indeed, we as a community are all in this together.

Today we stand in solidarity with the people of Monterey Park. But their loss should be our reminder that tough gun laws require equally tough enforcement — that complacency isn’t an option and that, yes, it can happen here.


Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.