Ever since the San Bernardino mass shooting, conservatives have been drawing attention to the fact that such a violent, awful shooting occurred in California—a state that is considered to have some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. Their reasoning essentially boils down to this: San Bernardino proves stringent gun control does not work.
If we really want to get into, let’s consider what California’s gun laws actually are, and how effective they’ve been in the past if we compare California gun deaths to the gun deaths in other states.
Here are the takeaways from the California Department of Justice’s Firearm Laws:
California has had an assault weapons ban since 1989
The following individuals are banned from legally obtaining guns
-Convicted of a felony
-Used a firearm in a violent offense
-Mentally disordered sex offender
-Mentally incompetent to stand trial
-Addicted to the use of narcotics
10 year prohibitions and 5 year prohibitions exist for a litany of reasons, including being considered a danger to yourself or others around you, threatening bodily harm to public officials, bringing a loaded firearm into a government building, and attempting assault, among other things (a full list is available here)
Additionally, we have a mandatory 10-day waiting period, no gun show loopholes, and as of 2015, everyone must obtain a Firearms Safety Certificate, scoring at least 75% on an objective written test pertaining to firearms laws and safety requirements for purchasing any weapon, as well as perform a safe handling demonstration. It is also quite difficult to obtain conceal and carry permits: only about 70,000 are given out in the state
These laws, when compared to states such as Texas, where there are no additional state regulations on top of basic measures covered by the National Firearms Act (no assault weapons ban, no handgun registration, no license required for owning a firearm), may seem exceedingly strict and lengthy.
Yet, they largely work. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence graded and ranked each state’s gun laws and compared it to that state’s death due to guns in a scatter plot. It’s more than obvious that states with tighter gun control have fewer deaths due to guns. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates gun control, found similar data: “there [is] less likelihood of mass killings in states that require background checks for all handgun sales than in states that do not — and even less chance of shootings by people who were prohibited by law from possessing firearms.”
Yes, correlation doesn’t always equal causation, but we can look even further than the United States; data from the world backs this up as well.
In comparison to the rest of the world, California’s laws emerge as exceedingly weak.
Handguns are illegal for private citizens in the U.K. and Japan; citizens in Germany must past a psych evaluation before buying a firearm; citizens in Italy and France must provide a legitimate reason for gun ownership, after which they must pass a mental health and background check.
The most notable case, which has been discussed at length, is Australia—it has experienced exactly zero mass shootings since 1996, a year that caused enormous devastation with the Port Arthur massacre that killed 34 people. A brave prime minister decided he’d had enough. The government banned a multitude of weapons, instituted a gun buy back program, and voila: no more mass shootings in 19 years.
If we compare deaths due to guns per 100,000 people, the numbers tell the same story. The U.S. experiences approximately 4 deaths per 100,000 people due to homicide—the U.K., Japan, Germany, Italy, France, and Australia experience .093, .063, .15, .54, .56, and .3, respectively. The difference in numbers is obvious: the U.S. is approximately 4 times as likely (or higher) to have citizens die due to guns.
So yes, to gun-crazy conservatives who wish to have no restrictions on their “freedoms,” California’s gun laws may seem strict. However, this is only because the majority of our country’s gun laws are laughably pathetic. California, along with the United States, needs to enact real, specific change when it comes to gun legislation, mirroring fellow first world nations. Australia wasn’t afraid to change. Neither was the U.K.—and they’re both undoubtedly better off. So why are we?
Banner Image Credit: Twitter, @josh_nelson