California Leads, But Will The Nation Follow?: California’s Response to Gun Violence


(Brennan Linsley/AP Photo)

In response to the recent mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the debate about gun control has once again arisen. Since it seems unlikely that the federal government will take action, it is important to focus on policy at the state level. California has consistently been a leader in gun control; however, gun rights advocates and special interest groups have made attempts to weaken these protections. California must lead the nation in gun control and fight back against the National Rifle Association in order to adequately protect California and U.S. residents.

It is important to acknowledge the way racism has shaped and continues to effect gun control legislation. While California is currently known for having some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation, it used to be an open carry state. This changed in 1967, when the California State Senate introduced a bill to eliminate the open carry policy. This bill was not proposed in response to any violent shooting, but instead targeted the Black Panthers, who were patrolling neighborhoods carrying guns in an attempt to prevent police brutality. On May 20, 1967, the Black Panthers staged an armed protest at the state capitol building against the bill, which they believed stripped them of their right to self-defense. The so-called “Panther’s Bill” passed the state legislature, ironically with the support of the NRA, repealing the right to open-carry in the state of California. Given the historical response to African Americans taking advantage of gun rights, even nonviolently, it’s fair to say the current gun debate would look significantly different had the majority of mass shooters been people of color.

While the start of gun regulation in California resulted from racism, gun control measures since then have been created in response to mass shootings. After a school shooting in 1989 killed five people, the state legislature passed the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act, which was the first law in the nation to ban the sale of assault weapons. When a gunman killed eight people in San Francisco in 1993, the state passed a law prohibiting the purchase of more than one handgun a month and strengthening handgun safety regulations. After the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, California passed a law banning firearm possession by anyone who has made a threat of violence to a therapist in the past five years. After 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, Proposition 63, which requires background checks and Department of Justice approval for the purchase of ammunition, passed with 63 percent of the vote. This year, new gun restrictions have taken effect, including a prohibition on the sale of assault weapons, the end to direct mail of ammunition, and a ban on out-of-state ammunition. Time and time again, the California state legislature has intervened to protect citizens against mass shootings while the federal government has failed to take action.

California’s gun laws have worked. Between 1996 and 2010, gun deaths in California dropped 56 percent, while gun deaths nationwide decreased only dropped 29.5 percent in the same period. Multiple studies show that states with stricter gun regulations see fewer gun related deaths. Critics of gun control claim that just because these laws cannot stop gun violence entirely, they are not worth implementing. It is true that California’s gun control measures cannot stop gun violence. They have not eliminated homicides, suicides, or even mass shootings in the state. But at least these regulations are something. These laws are some response by our legislators to the constant threat of violence. While gun violence in California has not vanished, at least the California state legislature has repeatedly attempted to address this issue and the laws passed have produced visible results.

California’s gun regulations have faced significant challenges from gun rights advocates. On Feb. 20, the Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to California’s 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases. The waiting period exists to discourage impulsive decisions, such as suicides. California’s attempt to ban detachable magazines that hold more than ten rounds is currently pending a hearing in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after being challenged by the the gun rights group The Firearms Policy Coalition and cannot take effect until the trial is finished. The federal government has also worked to undermine gun control measures created by states. In December 2017, the House passed a bill that allows gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines, regardless of each state’s regulations. If passed by the senate, this law would force California to honor concealed carry permits that violate the state’s own laws, exposing California’s residents to people with concealed weapons acquired in states with less stringent regulations. Special interest groups are highly powerful in the firearm debate and will continue to combat any form of regulation created by the state, despite overwhelming public support for common sense gun control. Citizens who favor gun control must become organized in order to combat the highly focused minority that seeks to eliminate all forms of regulation. Advocates for common sense gun control must become as active in lobbying as the NRA in order to combat the degradation of state gun regulations and protect against dangerous laws on both a federal and state level.

Enough is enough. We as a nation have watched families killed while watching movies, gay men murdered at a nightclub, fans gunned down at concerts, and children being slaughtered at school, not to mention the high suicide rates and everyday acts of preventable violence carried out with firearms. A staggering 97 percent of Americans support universal background checks and half of gun owners want tougher gun legislation, yet the federal government has failed to enact legislation in response to the mass shootings that have plagued our country. California can only lead the nation in gun control if the rest of the country follows. Gun control advocates must become as organized as the opponents and demand the regulation that the vast majority of voters already support. It will not fix everything, but at least it will be some attempt to end this senseless violence. Our thoughts and prayers are not good enough anymore. Now we must act.

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