California’s patchwork of gun laws has been called the strongest in the country by gun control advocacy group Giffords.
But Saturday night’s horrific mass murder in a Monterey Park dance hall shows how the state strict gun laws are unable to prevent gun violence in a country where gun ownership is considered a constitutionally protected right, firearms move freely between states with vastly different regulations, and gun control measures are peppered with exceptions.
However, California’s problem with gun violence is still significantly less than most other states, which argues for credit to the rules that are on the books.
Authorities did not say Sunday afternoon how the gunman in the mass murder obtained his weapon or what type of firearm he used.
California’s strictest gun safety measures stemmed from an explosion of shootings decades ago, including the 1989 massacre of children in a Stockton schoolyard and a 1993 mass murder at a downtown San Diego law office. Francisco.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) was a leading proponent of a 10-year national assault weapons ban passed in 1994. The federal measure was not renewed after it expired in 2004.
Still, with its restrictive state laws, California has one of the lowest firearm death rates in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It ranked seventh lowest nationally with 8.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020, well below the national average of 13.7. Texas posted a rate of 14.2. Georgia had a rate of 17.7. The highest rate was recorded in Mississippi, with 28.6 deaths per 100,000 residents.
The California Public Policy Institute, a nonpartisan organization that studies state policy and politics, found that the state’s death rate from large-scale shootings between 2019 and 2021 was below the national average.
“Compared to citizens of other states, Californians are 25% less likely to die” in such events, according to the institute.
California lawmakers continue to push for tougher gun laws, turning the state into a laboratory for firearms regulations and a frequent target of criticism from groups like the National Rifle Association. Earlier this month, the NRA issued a warning that California’s new state legislative session appeared to include the “usual Appetite for Gun Control.”
Last year, the strongly liberal state legislature passed a bill that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who sells illegal firearms, a deliberate echo of the controversial Texas law that allows citizens to go after service providers. of abortion in court.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) defended legislation that opens the door for private lawsuits against gun dealers. It would have allowed the plaintiffs to sue those who illegally traffic in assault.–style rifles, high caliber rifles, pistols without serial numbers or so-called ghost pistols, which are made without serial numbers or other ways to trace them, sometimes in home workshops.
But in December, a federal judge in San Diego blocked the law from taking effect. The judge, Roger Benítez, blocked several other state gun control measures, including efforts to limit the size of ammunition magazines. An appeals court stayed Benítez’s ruling for the ammunition carriers.
After Benitez issued his injunction last month in the dealer lawsuits case, Newsom called it a “wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association.”
Last week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta joined 17 other attorneys general in urging the US Supreme Court to uphold a New York law that makes it easier for citizens to sue gun manufacturers. . The decision could affect the status of California’s effort to do so.
At the same time, gun control activists are concerned about aftershocks to last year’s Supreme Court decision that the Second Amendment generally protects the rights of law-abiding Americans to carry a gun outside the home to defend themselves. . The failure in New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. bruen has resulted in easier access to concealed carry permits across the country. In California, the ruling led to a surge in permit applications and uncertainty among local officials about how to proceed.
California’s assault weapons ban has also faced court challenges. But, like many firearms regulations, the ban carries less weight than its name implies.
State law defines prohibited weapons as semi-automatic pistols with certain technical features, such as a flash suppressor. It also requires guns to have magazines that hold no more than 10 rounds; the industry standard is a 30 round magazine.
But that hasn’t stopped gun manufacturers from selling what are commonly considered military-style weapons, including AR-15-style rifles, in states with an assault weapons ban.
Major manufacturers produce a range of California compliant AR-15 style firearms that combine features to avoid breaking the law.
Smith & Wesson sells versions of its popular M&P 15 rifle that are designed to be legal in California by modifying the grip or magazine. An M&P 15 was used to kill seven people at a 4th of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois in 2022.
Daniel Defense also offers a version of their DDM4 rifle that can be sold in California. A gunman used a DDM4 to kill 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas in 2022.
The California-compliant versions of these AR-15-style guns look largely identical to guns sold in other states.
Frankel reported from Washington.