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Around the Valley: Gun violence shatters sense of safety

Editorial: Gina Channell Wilcox reflects on recent violent incidents in the Tri-Valley, including the fatal shooting of Antonio Vargas at Granada Bowl in Livermore

The sense of safety is as fragile as glass.

I realized this when I made a trip to Stoneridge Mall recently, by myself, at dusk. As I parked, I thought of all of the violent incidents in the Tri-Valley over the past few weeks.

As I grabbed the door handle, I remembered the armed robbery in the parking lot of a Danville grocery store the previous week when a man was approached by teenagers pointing guns at him when he exited his car.

That July 1 armed robbery, which happened in broad daylight in a community named the safest in California just last year, made me want to lock my doors and not leave the house.

Not only did this happen in the parking lot of a store I frequent, it was the fourth violent crime involving gun-wielding thugs in the Tri-Valley within the previous two-week period.

It was preceded by a car break-in with shots fired in Pleasanton on June 28, which was preceded by an armed robbery attempt with gunfire exchanged in Danville on June 21, which was preceded by an armed carjacking in Livermore on June 20.

Two weeks went by and I started feeling a bit more secure, but then the crack in my fragile sense of safety splintered further when three people were shot at Granada Bowl in Livermore.

Police reported Antonio Vargas, 28, was playing pool in the bar at the bowling alley on July 16 when there was a verbal altercation that turned into a physical altercation that ended with Roger Garcia Aleman pulling a gun and shooting three people, killing Vargas.

At 27, Aleman has a long and violent record. He has been in and out of jail since he was 18 -- or at least on the record because juvenile records are kept from the public. After looking at his run-ins with the law since he was 18, my bet is that the violent, criminal behavior started well before he became a legal adult.

At age 18 in September 2013, Aleman was convicted of assault with a firearm and sentenced to four years in state prison. However, he obviously didn’t serve even half of his sentence because in July 2015 he had his parole revoked and was sentenced to 145 days in county lockup.

He had his parole revoked again in May 2016 and sentenced to 90 days in jail, and again in November of that year for evading a police officer in Pleasanton and spent 18 days in Santa Rita. Because evading a police officer is a misdemeanor, Aleman was put on court probation for three years.

In November 2017 Aleman was arrested and charged with, among other offenses, possession of a firearm by a felon, carrying a loaded firearm in a city, carrying a concealed firearm within a vehicle and possession of methamphetamine.

In 2018, Aleman pleaded no contest to one charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm and was sentenced to three years in San Quentin, with 182 days for credit for time served. The balance of the complaint was dismissed.

In September 2020, he was arrested for public intoxication, in May 2021 for possession of a firearm by an addict, and in December 2021 for possession of a controlled narcotic and marijuana.

Aleman pulled the trigger that ended Antonio Vargas’ life, but who is ultimately responsible for Vargas’ death? Is it the DA’s office because they compromised too much and too often by reducing and dismissing charges? Is it the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Board of Parole, because they open the prisons’ revolving doors to so many before they serve even half of their sentences?

California's gun laws are among the most restrictive, if not the strictest, in the United States. In the Golden State, as in many other states, felons are prohibited from possessing firearms. Yet Aleman was indeed in possession of a concealed firearm on July 16, 2022.

Criminals don’t go through legal means to get guns. They go through individual sales, in which sellers who aren’t licensed gun dealers aren’t required to conduct a background check. They have a “straw buyer” purchase them. They steal them. They build them.

According to the California Department of Justice’s 2021 Armed and Prohibited Persons System annual report, as of Jan. 1, 2022, 24,509 individuals who are on the prohibited list are known to possess firearms. Of that number, 54% of prohibited individuals in the APPS database were prohibited due to a felony conviction.

The department’s recommendations to get firearms from prohibited people boils down to money -- money to enforce a currently unfunded mandate that county courts confiscate or transfer firearms from felons, money to offer competitive pay for its officers, and money to modernize databases.

I want to again be able to leave the house without fear of being robbed at gunpoint or shot.

We need our elected representatives like Gov. Gavin Newsom and Congressman Eric Swalwell to stop posturing for their party and voters and focus on funding mandates that will get guns out of the hands of violent felons.

It’s too late for Antonio Vargas and his family, but maybe we can stop this from happening again.

Editor's note: Gina Channell Wilcox has been the president and publisher of Embarcadero Media Group's East Bay Division since 2006. Her "Around the Valley" column runs the first and third Fridays of the month.