Michael Hiltzik: Gun Laws Work

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Michael Hiltzik shows that California’s strict gun laws have reduced gun deaths, although their biggest foe is the federal judiciary, especially Trump-appointed judges.

The most predictable response by the gun lobby and its political mouthpieces to calls for stricter gun laws in the wake of mass shootings is that tough laws don’t work.

You’ve probably heard all the arguments: That we already have tough laws on the books, that the problem is they aren’t enforced. Or that the legislation most often proposed wouldn’t have stopped the latest perpetrator of the latest gun-related horror, such as Uvalde gunman Salvador Ramos.

None of that is true, and California, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation, is the proof.

As we’ve reported before, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that overall firearm deaths in California, at 8.5 per 100,000 population in 2020, easily bests the rates in states with lax controls, such as Texas (14.2 per 100,000) and Louisiana (26.3).

The disparity is especially sharp when it comes to firearm deaths of those under 18. California’s rate is about half that of the national average, less than half that of Texas, and only about one-fourth that of Louisiana. 

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It’s true that California has not been immune from the national epidemic of mass shootings. But its laws have had a measurable, positive impact. “California has not solved the problem of mass shootings,” says Ari Freilich, state policy director at the gun safety organization Giffords. “But California children are half as likely to be shot.” 

Let’s examine the key elements of California’s laws, and how they might have interfered with the latest major gun-related outrages — the killings of 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, and the killings of 10 people at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y., on May 14.

California’s firearms regulations are among the most comprehensive in America. Assault weapons, defined partially by their manufacturer and partially by their features, have been banned since 1989. Purchasers of any firearm must do so through a registered dealer and submit to a background checkammunition sales are also regulated.

Handguns can’t be sold to anyone under 21, and with certain exceptions to transfer other firearms to anyone under 18. All purchases require a waiting period of at least 10 days, or more if certain formalities haven’t been completed, such as a firearm safety course and passage of a test. Most are barred from buying more than one gun a month.

Uvalde, Texas May 26, 2022- Family members walk away after living flowers at a memorial outside Rob Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen students and two teachers died when a gunman opened fire in a classroom Tuesday. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

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Open carry of loaded firearms is generally prohibited, as is concealed carry of a loaded weapon without a license.

California also has a so-called red flag law, or “extreme risk protection orders,” which allow family members, police, employers or school personnel to alert authorities to signs of danger from a person and for a judge to order the confiscation of weapons from that person.

The California constitution has no provision protecting the right to bear arms. State law preempts all local initiatives.

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