The Spaniards who came up from Mexico to explore California looked down from the top of the Santa Monica mountains on a valley carpeted with oak trees. What they called the valley of the oaks is now called San Fernando Valley. The once-sleepy town of Thousand Oaks sits fifteen or so miles past the southwestern end of it.
Thousand Oaks is my hometown. I went to Thousand Oaks High School, which is a couple of miles from the site of the mass shooting. I used to play golf at Los Robles golf course, which is a stone’s throw from the Borderline Bar and Grill.
I wouldn’t have expected Thousand Oaks to join the growing list of obscure American towns struck by mass shooters. It was an impeccably safe city for decades, although I did notice that the rich increasingly decamped to gated communities in Thousand Oaks and its posher counterpart, Westlake Village, as the grimy urban tentacles of Los Angeles, only forty miles away, extended their reach to Ventura County. In the last decade or so, I would often read of odd happenings in Thousand Oaks: this or that bank robbed, illegal immigration-related problems of one kind or another, and so on.
Thousand Oaks remained pretty sedate, but with each passing year the filth and dysfunction of LA inched toward it. The city was never known for very much. Whenever I told anybody that I grew up in Thousand Oaks, they would more often than not look at me blankly and say, “Where’s that?” For a while, football aficionados knew Thousand Oaks as the town in which the Dallas Cowboys trained during the summer at California Lutheran College (now University).
Its legendary coach Tom Landry, according to sports reporters, liked Thousand Oaks for two reasons: one, the sleepiness of the town decreased the chances of his players getting into trouble after practice; two, its dry but tolerable climate — Thousand Oaks can get very hot but its proximity to the Pacific mitigates that heat with breezes — made for challenging training conditions without the fear of overheated players pegging out. Landry’s bad-boy successors could only take the obscurity of Thousand Oaks for a year and ended the team’s contract with California Lutheran University in 1990 and moved summer camp to St. Edward’s University in Austin.
Henceforth, Thousand Oaks will be known primarily as the scene of a horrifying shooting at a country music bar, perhaps not unlike the saloons that once dotted northwest Los Angeles in the wild-and-woolly frontier period of 19th century California. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has managed to get less safe since then. The shooter lived with his mom in Newbury Park, which is part of Thousand Oaks. Little mention is made of his father. I scoured the “What we know about the shooter”-style pieces in vain for any real information about the shooter’s family life. One CBS report briefly quoted a cousin saying his father died from “cancer early in his life.”
The media should have told us more about his family life by now, but of course it treats such basic biographical matters gingerly, as that probing might imply mass shootings reflect cultural rather than legislative changes. The media also likes to medicalize tragedies, attributing the shooter’s behavior to PTSD. But surely the explanation is more complicated than that.
The media’s game is to make everyone think that gun violence is due to the absence of laws and pills. But in fact the two spiked as gun violence soared. Pols pass new gun laws with the same regularity pharmaceutical companies manufacture new medicines for new syndromes. Could it be that mental problems originate in moral problems? Could it be that new laws are useless on a citizenry stripped of the capacity to follow them? An honest media would pursue these questions. Instead, it gives us an endless stream of uncritical interviews with Senators and Congressmen who call for gun confiscation while protected by armed guards.
“Last night at Thousand Oaks, one of the safest cities in America,” intoned Congressman Ted Deutch, a gun-control demagogue from Fort Lauderdale, “just like Parkland, just like Newtown, we saw another mass shooting… and Congress needs to take action.” No, it doesn’t. Thousand Oaks has joined that roll call of shame not because of the absence of good laws but in part because of the presence of bad ones — an accretion that has led to more government and less morality, a toxic mix terminating in an out-of-control society in which legislators reflexively respond to unspeakable tragedy by proposing more and more laws for a people whose vices and pathologies guarantee they will violate them. From that combined culture of totalitarianism and relativism comes in the end a Leviathan state that swallows up safety just as readily as it devours freedom.