|Problem and Policy Review: Gun Control in California
If someone were asked for a hot-button issue in today’s society, they would certainly have a plethora of options. In the United States, over the last several years especially, gun control has been one of the most debated topics. Gun control is such a heated issue because it is an attempt to both ease the fear of the government hindering citizens’ right to bear arms yet and also trying to keep weapons away from those who may cause harm. In this paper, public policy regarding gun control will be discussed including an analysis of the problem gun control activists aim to solve as well details on the policy and its implementation. Furthermore, the results from the implementation of this policy will be analyzed. It is important to note that for this paper, public policies regarding gun control will only be evaluated as they pertain to California.
Analysis of the Problem Gun Control Aims to Fix
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on any average day, about 93 Americans are killed with guns which is about 25 times the average of other high-income developed countries. (Everytown 2017) This is what California policy makers wanted to avoid with the implementation of some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Now, it is significant to note that California is a Democratic state as shown by the last several elections and that undoubtedly has played a role in these policies. Currently, Democrats hold a super-majority in the State Assembly so the chances of repealing this gun legislation is very low.
In general, the start of significant debate regarding gun laws started after April 20, 1999, which was the fateful day two students walked into Columbine High School shooting and killing 13 people and wounding another 23. (CNN 2016) This was one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history and was a catalyst for the modern day debate about gun control. How could more people be stopped from shooting innocent people like that of the Columbine incident? That seemed to be the central question and one that is still debated to this day. Some argue that limiting access to guns is the answer as less people will have access to the dangerous items. On the other side of the debate is the argument that no matter the restrictions, people with bad intent will do whatever necessary to complete their mission. This too has been countered with the argument that at least control would make that mission harder. Whatever side of the argument one finds themselves on, both sides agree that mass killings are all too common. According to ABC News, in 2015, on average, there was one shooting per week at a school in the United States. (Pearle 2016) That is quite an astonishing statistic and one that deserves attention. Now, the debate goes back to what type of gun control will actually keep guns away from those planning to do harm. To that, some say increased background checks is the answer. Unfortunately, in the 270 school shootings since Columbine in 1999, 73% of the school shooters had no prior criminal record, including no arrests. (Pearle 2016) In addition, 68% of school shooters got their guns from relatives or from their home. This alone would deem increased background useless for at least 68% of school shooters. Something may work to get the gun violence epidemic under control but the debate continues on what exactly that thing is.
Gun violence may be a thing that most people will not be able to truly relate to unless they are personally affected by it. Unfortunately, a lot of people within the CSUSB community can say they have been. On December 2, 2015, Syed Farook and his wife Tashfeen Malik, walked into Farook’s work holiday party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino and started shooting, killing 14 and wounding 22. (LA Times 2015) This affected many people in the region as county buildings and schools went on lockdown and many people lost loved ones in this attack. Although this was deemed to be an act of terrorism, the factor of gun violence was still prominent and is a well known topic in the area.
Now, it is important to ask throughout this discussion, if this a problem that can be solved. Admittedly, there is a way to restrict access to guns but the ability to prohibit someone from accessing a firearm, with as many as there are in the country, is seemingly impossible. However, if there was a way to increase gun control, that way would be through the government versus the private sector. The government has the ability to enact laws that prohibit the sales of certain firearms and that is extremely powerful in this topic. The related cost depends on which side of the aisle you are on. For example, there is no amount of money that will solve this solution but in terms of enacting legislation prohibiting firearms, the costs include only those to pass such legislation. The costlier side however, comes from the gun lobby that does everything it can to block legislation which increases gun control. Obviously this is done so that they gun manufacturers still have customers. Now that the problem that gun control aims to fix is understood, it is important to see how California has gone about restricting possession of firearms.
California Gun Control Measures
Being amongst the most restrictive in the United States, California’s Penal Code lays out the way it restricts people in terms of owning/possessing firearms. To being, California Penal Code prohibits cane guns, zip guns, wallet guns, or any firearm not immediately recognized as such. In addition, short-barreled shotguns or rifles (i.e. barrel of less than 18 inches for shotgun, less than 16 inches for rifle, or less than 26 inches designed to fire a fixed shotgun shell or cartridge) are prohibited. Also, any bullet with explosive agents, a multi-burst trigger activator or any unconventional pistol or undetectable firearm is also not allowed. (FindLaw 2017) Also, there is a 10-day waiting period between the purchasing and the picking-up of a firearm. In addition, any person convicted of any felony or found incompetent to stand trial or found innocent by reason of insanity, are banned for life from owning any firearms in California. The laws do not stop there and institute a 10-year ban on anyone who has been convicted of a misdemeanor violent crime like battery or domestic violence. Also, if someone has been admitted to a mental health institution, they are banned for a minimum of 5 years and up to a lifetime ban. Finally, it is a felony to possess a gun on or near school grounds. (FindLaw 2017) Now, not only do these laws alone make California one of the strictest states in the country, California voted for even more restrictions in the last election. In the last election (November, 2016), California passed Proposition 63 which prohibited the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines (over 10 rounds) as well as making business have a license to sell ammunition. Also, Proposition 63 will make it illegal to bring in ammunition from a different state without going through a licensed dealer. In addition, Proposition 63 requires background checks for purchasers of certain amounts of ammunition. (Ballotpedia)
As aforementioned, the goals of implementing these policies was to curb gun violence. The government in California have some of the biggest advocates for the increased gun control and they are the same who have been implementing and subsequently enforcing such laws. For example, the Governor was a loud supporter for the Yes on 63 movements to pass Proposition 63. (Ballotpedia) This again has some relation to the fact that California’s government is a Democratic government. The government believed the people, considered a stakeholder in this law, were the ones that were going to benefit because of the decreased risk of gun violence. However, as discussed in this paper, the debate remains whether controlling purchasing of firearms or even adjusting the background check process, is really what would influence this issue. One stakeholder that clearly does not benefit would be the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers as they are hurt by the restrictions and the lessening amount of people authorized to purchase firearms in the state. Organizations such as the NRA are clearly not supporters of California’s legislation. In regards to this policy, there is limited international influence. The results of the strict gun laws in California can potentially prove this legislation worthy of being followed by other states or countries, or it can have the opposite affect. The long term results will truly be able to deem the legislation useful or not as useful as intended.
Implementation of California’s Gun Control Legislation
Most of the enforcement and implementation of California’s gun control legislation comes down to law enforcement agencies and gun dealers. Law enforcement agencies, especially those related to probation and parole divisions, are responsible for ensuring that restricted persons are not in possession of firearms they are not allowed to have. Proposition 63 also mandated the courts to inform those people who were restricted from having firearms, to return them to local law enforcement agencies or to sell them to a gun dealer. (Ballotpedia) Now, the other party that has played a large role in the implementation of California’s gun laws is the gun dealers themselves. They are responsible for many aspects of the law from ensuring compliance with everything from the 10-day waiting period to making sure that they do not sell any high capacity magazines to their customers. They also facilitate the background checks through the Department of Justice and make sure that who they sell firearms to are legally allowed to have them. They even facilitate the required firearms safety test required by the State of California and issue the related documentation. All of these procedures that the gun dealers have to go through are unfunded mandates by the State. Technically gun dealers are not forced to give the safety test for example, but if that is the only way someone can buy a gun, then they seemingly have no choice although California does not pay them for facilitating that test. Finally, most of the laws in place in California have been a result of elections by the people and not a result of bureaucratic decision making. Simply put, the majority of the restrictions put on people in California were voted for by the people so there is little blame to be put on others.
Results of California’s Gun Control Legislation
Overall, the entire discussion of whether the strict gun laws in place in California are useful or not, comes down to results. The fact of the matter is that statistics support the notion that these strict gun laws actually do have a positive impact on gun violence statistics. For example, according to a study reported on in 2013, gun violence across California dropped 56% from 5,500 gun deaths in 1993 to 2,935 in 2010 with taking into account a population change from 30 to 37 million people over the same time frame. (Smyth 2013) In a more recent analysis, handgun sales from 2003 to 2014 skyrocketed from 126,233 to 512,174, respectively. Now, in that same time frame, violent crime dropped from 570 instances per 100,000 population in 2003 to 340 instances per 100,000 population in 2014. (Adelmann) Firearm homicide dropped from 4.7 occurrences to 3.4 occurrences within the same population numbers. This shows that although the gun laws are tough in California, there is something positive coming from them. One could more easily argue for less restrictions if the data showed the opposite findings. However, if gun violence shows to be decreasing, further research should be done to properly link gun control with the decrease. If this is truly the case as shown in these aforementioned studies, there is reason for other states to follow California’s lead in an effort to save innocent lives from being victim of gun violence.
This essay has explored the public policy relating to gun control in the State of California. The policies have been examined in detail as well as how they have been implemented and who has supported such laws. Counter arguments have also been examined but the real results came from the data examined in this essay. Data from different studies have shown that the implementation of strict gun control laws have led to a decrease in violent crime. These statistics should not be ignored and ought to be examined and looked as a validation for California’s laws. These laws can potentially serve as models for other states to try to combat the heavy gun violence that the United States faces every day. If something has proved to be effective, there is little reason not to try it. This is not to say that the second amendment right to bear arms is to be forgotten but it is to serve as a reminder that gun violence is prominent and there are ways to combat it while respecting rights.
Adelmann, Bob. In California, Stricter Gun Controls Leading to Less Violent Crime - for Now. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/constitution/item/23998-california-perverse-stricter-gun-controls-leading-to-less-violent-crime
California Gun Control Laws. FindLaw (n.d.). Retrieved from http://statelaws.findlaw.com/california-law/california-gun-control-laws.html
California Proposition 63, Background Checks for Ammunition Purchases and Large-Capacity Ammunition Magazine Ban (2016). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ballotpedia.org/California_Proposition_63,_Background_Checks_for_Ammunition_Purchases_and_Large-Capacity_Ammunition_Magazine_Ban_(2016)Gun Violence by the Numbers. (2017, January 19). Retrieved March 13, 2017, from https://everytownresearch.org/gun-violence-by-the-numbers/#YearlyGunMurders
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Everything we know about the San Bernardino terror attack investigation so far. (2015, December 14). Retrieved from http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-san-bernardino-shooting-terror-investigation-htmlstory.html
Pearle, L. (2016, February 12). School Shootings Since Columbine: By the Numbers. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/school-shootings-columbine-numbers/story?id=36833245
Smyth, F. (2013, September 13). California: Did tough gun control laws cut firearms deaths? Retrieved from http://www.msnbc.com/all/california-did-tough-gun-control-laws-cut