Opinion: California proves that stricter gun laws save lives

Photo/Damian Dovarganes/ The Associated Press / Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón, speaking from the podium, joins lawmakers, prosecutors and survivors to announce three new laws aimed at getting guns off California streets in Monterey Park, Calif., in Los Angeles on Monday, April 24, 2023. Mike Fong, Assemblymember, D-Alhambra, sits at left.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Fewer guns plus more gun control add up to less gun carnage. That's logical. And it's a fact.

California is proof.

So is Mississippi.

We're a state with arguably the nation's strictest gun laws. And we've got one of the lowest rates of gun deaths.

States with lax gun controls have some of the highest gun death rates. Many are Southern red states. Starting with Mississippi.

"I don't think it's a coincidence that our gun violence rate has dropped much more than the rest of the country," says Garen Wintemute, director of the UC Firearms Violence Research Program. "My suspicion is that our robust regulatory system has a lot to do with it."

Wintemute is a career researcher, as well as an emergency room doctor who has treated countless gunshot wounds. He tends to be cautious with his rhetoric.

But not so much the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which doesn't mince words.

It grades California with an "A" for gun control. "Overall, California has the strongest gun safety laws in the nation and has been a trailblazer," it reports.

The state Legislature recently has been heavy into strengthening California's gun laws even further. More on that below.

Mississippi gets an "F" from Giffords: It "has the weakest gun laws in the country and the highest gun death rate."

That's backed up by the National Center for Health Statistics. For 2021, the year with the latest data, it reports that Mississippi had the nation's highest gun death rate of nearly 34 per 100,000 people.

That includes homicides, suicides and accidental shootings.

Other states with weak gun control laws and high gun death rates include Louisiana, Alabama, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma.

Mississippi also has one of the nation's highest gun ownership rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Slightly more than 50% of the state's residents have firearms in their homes.

Contrast that with California, where the gun death rate was 9 per 100,000. There are seven states with even lower rates. They include New York and New Jersey, which Giffords grades with "A-" and "A," respectively, on gun control.

California's gun ownership rate is one of the very lowest, with 16% of households having firearms.

Unless I'm missing something, the fact that blue states with big urban centers — California, New York, New Jersey — have lower gun death rates than many rural red states is even more proof that gun control works. Cities tend to be more ridden with criminal gangs than are country villages.

There's also research that shows you're less safe around a gun than away from one. Again, that's logical — despite gun lobby propaganda.

Some of California's strongest gun laws — the ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a required background check on ammunition buyers — are being challenged in lawsuits filed by gun rights advocates who have been inspired by the firearms-friendly U.S. Supreme Court.

A monumental pro-gun decision last year by the Supreme Court threw out a New York law restricting who could carry concealed loaded guns. In effect, the court also invalidated California's similar law.

Legislation to replace the old concealed weapons law with one that passes Supreme Court muster is this year's biggest gun bill in Sacramento.

"You don't need a gun to go to your daughter's soccer game," the bill's author, Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, keeps repeating. "You don't need a gun to go to Dodger Stadium. You don't need a gun to go to where alcohol is sold."

Portantino's bill, SB 2, would ban concealed weapons in government buildings, schools, medical facilities, churches, playgrounds, athletic fields and bars.

It would impose uniform statewide standards for issuing permits to carry concealed weapons. No longer would it be at the local sheriff's discretion.

"Sheriffs vehemently oppose my bill because they want to be able to give out permits willy-nilly," the lawmaker says.

The Senate sent the measure to the Assembly recently on a 29-9 vote. Most Democrats voted "yes." Republicans were opposed.

The debate was heated.

While Democrats "won't do a damn thing" about people dying from fentanyl overdoses, Minority Leader Brian Jones, R-San Diego, asserted, they "stand on this [Senate] floor and get self-righteous about gun control."

The Assembly recently passed a more problematic bill, which now heads to the Senate. It would impose an 11% excise tax on the sale of guns and ammunition, raising $160 million annually. The money would fund gun violence prevention programs.

It's a good cause. These programs work. But they should be paid for out of the state general fund. It's a societal problem. Everyone should kick in. Not just hunters and target shooters. Lots of bad guys steal their guns anyway and would never pay the tax.

The bill's author, Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, D-Woodland Hills, says manufacturers and retailers would be taxed, not consumers. But you know how that goes. The consumer eventually pays.

The bill, AB 28, was passed on a party-line vote, 56 to 17.

Control their guns. Lay off their pocketbooks.

The Los Angeles Times