The recurrence of mass shootings nationwide has kept the widely-debated issue of gun control front and center. Advocates for more restriction of firearms say gun control laws can and do stop violent crime and save lives, while gun rights activists say most of those laws are window dressing at best, and at worst, violations of the Second Amendment that persecute law-abiding gun owners. In this debate, the two sides argue over the rationality and effectiveness of California’s gun laws.
California serves as a case study because of its numerous gun control laws, which are widely regarded as the strictest in the nation. Many of these laws were legislated following tragic gun-related events, while others were passed to thwart workarounds implemented by the gun industry. Here’s a run-down of some of California’s many complex gun laws.
Buyers must wait 10 days before purchasing. Firearms must be bought from authorized dealers, and those purchases require a Handgun Safety Certificate and proof of residency. The state maintains a record of the seller, buyer, and firearm. Only one weapon may be brought within any 30-day period.
The most publicized laws — and those considered most onerous by gun rights advocates — have to do with restricting so-called “assault weapons” and the AR-15.
California also implemented a “red flag” law in 2014 that allows police and family members to petition a judge to confiscate weapons from an individual they think poses a threat to the public or themselves.
Are these laws working? One statistic appears to say, yes. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that from 1993 to 2010, the rate of deaths by guns in California dropped by 56%, compared to 29.5% drop in the rest of the country over that period.
But proving causality here is a difficult task. First, many of California’s high-profile gun laws were passed after 2010. Furthermore, it’s hard to reason exactly how California’s gun laws have contributed to the reduction in gun-related deaths. Does a 10-day waiting period or a requirement to buy from a dealer stop a violent criminal?
When it comes to the assault weapons laws and the AR-15 in particular, a gun that looks scary and seems to be preferred by many mass shooters, FBI data shows that the vast majority of homicides are committed using handguns.