A solitary young man, with a history of mental troubles and a fascination with firearms, obtains an AR-15 rifle, a .44-caliber handgun, a ballistic vest and 1,300 rounds of ammunition, loaded into 40 large-capacity magazines. What happened next is depressingly familiar.
John Zawahri, 23, killed his father and his brother, leaving their house in flames. Next he carjacked a motorist and forced her to drive him to Santa Monica College, firing at other vehicles along the way, a city bus and a police car among them. Four people were dead and a fifth was fatally wounded before police killed Zawahri in a shoot-out in the college library.
Zawahri's victims were adults, not first-graders, and, mercifully, the death toll was far smaller, but these senseless killings conjure images of the massacre just six months ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
Yet something is missing. Where is the shock? The outrage? The recognition that mental health care is too scarce and lethal firepower too readily available in this country?
Newtown brought pledges of action — followed, in Washington anyway, by more failure to act.
Coincidentally, President Barack Obama was in Santa Monica on Friday as the violence unfolded. His motorcade was rerouted, but he still attended a fundraising lunch about three miles away at the home of a Hollywood mogul.
Nor did the Santa Monica shootings make much of a blip in the news cycle. The story appeared deep inside this paper, the New York Times and many other newspapers outside Southern California.
Are mass shootings becoming so common that they're no longer front-page news? Maybe so.
More than 930 people died in mass shootings — defined by the FBI as shootings involving at least four deaths — in the United States between 2006 and February 2013, according to USA Today.
To put that number in perspective, it's slightly less than the population of Bodega Bay.
Second Amendment absolutists will tell you that those unfortunates (and about 70,000 other people killed by firearms over the same seven-year period) are collateral damage, an unavoidable price for the ability to arm ourselves as we choose. Or they'll insist everyone should be armed, adding to the crossfire.
As the U.S. Supreme Court has said, the Second Amendment doesn't grant an unrestricted right to bear arms. Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the most conservative voice on the court, found room in the Second Amendment to deny gun ownership to felons and the mentally ill and to restrict "dangerous and unusual" weapons. That leaves ample room for universal background checks, waiting periods and laws against large-capacity magazines.
California has made progress in the months since Newtown, most notably funding a program to seize weapons from people who are no longer legally entitled to own them.
Legislators are considering additional measures that would expand the list of people prohibited from owning firearms, regulate ammunition sales and ban semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines.
No single measure will end gun violence. Another unstable individual will go on a killing spree. But if it's harder to obtain the necessary weapons, some lives can be saved, and these commando-style raids on an unsuspecting public may regain their shock value.