L.A. laundry dispute: How common are family mass shootings?

Four people died after a man who drank frequently shot his wife and two other people after an argument over using the family washing machine. Are family mass shootings on the rise? 

Sandra Molina/San Gabriel Valley Tribune/AP
Vehicles are parked outside a home where Los Angeles County authorities say a man shot and killed his wife and two others on New Year's Eve before his son wrestled the gun away and fatally shot him Friday, Jan. 1, 2016, in Rowland Heights, Calif. The Sheriff's Department said Friday that the other two victims killed were the son's girlfriend who also lives at the house in Rowland Heights and a man who was visiting.

A father and heavy drinker fatally shot his wife and two others after an argument over the washing machine on New Year's Eve in the Los Angeles suburbs.

The son, Christopher Morey, wrestled the gun away from his father and fatally shot him. He has been arrested for murder and is being held on $1 million bail. While such domestic shootings are particularly difficult to predict, they are declining nationally, as are felony crimes.

"It looks like it was a dispute between the dad and the son's girlfriend, probably over using the washing machine," Sheriff's Lt. John Corina told the San Gabriel Valley Tribune. "For some reason, this set the dad off."

Wilfred Calzadilla, brother to victim Ernesto Calzadilla, said his brother was a friend of the family, but he had generally stopped going to the house because of worries about the father, who drank heavily and owned a large collection of guns. Local law authorities had visited the house to investigate dozens of times, according to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department.

"Mixing alcohol and guns never ends good," Wilfred Calzadilla told the Associated Press.

Mass shootings in the United States (defined as four or more killed) have declined since the mid 2000s if incidents such as this are included in the data, Patrik Jonsson recently reported for The Christian Science Monitor. But members of the American public may perceive that violence is on the uptick because increased media coverage reflects growing efforts to deal with it. 

Indeed, 7 in 10 Americans said they believed there was more crime in the US this year than last, according to a Gallup poll in October, up from 2014. That’s despite the fact that the nation’s crime rates have plummeted over the past two decades. But as the polling center noted about its annual survey, “Americans' perceptions of crime … are not always on par with reality.”

"There’s a sense of helplessness, but it’s in some ways misplaced,” Jonathan Metzl, director of the Center for Medicine, Health and Society at Vanderbilt University, told The Christian Science Monitor. “The fact is, we are going to have a very hard time, given our gun culture, stopping mass shootings. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t stem the tide of gun violence, because everyday gun violence is incredibly preventable."

Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox told the Huffington Post domestic gun violence incidents should be part of the data. "To the victims who are slain, it hardly matters whether they were killed in public or in a private home," he told the Huffington Post in an email. "Nor does it matter if the assailant was a family member or a stranger. They are just as dead."

Many researchers and those who would want to fix the problem seek to separate out the causes of such shootings in efforts to prevent them, The Christian Science Monitor reported. 

"The guy who goes home to his family [and shoots them], that’s a different event than someone who goes out and shoots someone in public," says Deborah Azrael, associate director of the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center told The Christian Science Monitor. "I don't rank one as being more important than the other. I think they have really different policy implications."

President Barack Obama is likely to take steps this week to tighten laws around gun sales and background checks for potential gun buyers.

He says he'll meet his attorney general, Loretta Lynch, on Monday to see what executive actions might be possible, reports The Associated Press.

"The gun lobby is loud and well organized in its defense of effortlessly available guns for anyone," Obama said in his weekly radio address. "The rest of us are going to have to be just as passionate and well organized in our defense of our kids."

The washing machine dispute turned deadly just one day after California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law allowing family members to petition a court to take away an individual's guns if they believed he or she could potentially commit an act of gun violence, The Christian Science Monitor reported.

Although it is unclear whether this law could have prevented this incident, it is unprecedented in that family members can report an individual. The idea is that family members often see warning signs and suffer the consequences first.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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