California is already tough on guns, but after shooting, some wonder if it’s enough
After a mass killing in Santa Barbara in 2014, California passed a law that let police officers and family members seek restraining orders to seize guns from troubled people. A year later, a shooting rampage in San Bernardino led to voters approving a ballot proposition to outlaw expanded magazines for guns and require background checks for buying ammunition.
The state has also banned assault weapons and regulates ammunition sales – all part of a wave of gun regulation that began a quarter century ago with a mass murder at a San Francisco law firm.
California may have the toughest gun control laws in the nation, but that still did not prevent the latest mass killing – a shooting on Wednesday that left 12 people dead at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks.
The community of Thousand Oaks is just starting to grieve its losses, and investigators are still combing through the background of the gunman, who was found dead after the shooting. But gun control activists and politicians in the state are already weighing what more can be done, and whether existing measures could have prevented the killing.
The attack came just as California elected a new governor, Gavin Newsom, this week, and eyes are on him to see how he responds.
Newsom is seen as even more aggressive on gun restrictions than his predecessor, Gov. Jerry Brown, and some experts say the state could see the passage of even tougher laws. As lieutenant governor, Newsom led the effort after the San Bernardino killings to pass the ballot proposition on high-capacity magazines and background checks – a measure that has not been enacted yet because of a court challenge.
With Brown out of the state this week, and Newsom serving as acting governor, the mass shooting became the first crisis he faced after being elected Tuesday night.
“The response is not just prayers,” Newsom said at a news conference Thursday in Sacramento. “The response cannot just be excuses. The response sure as hell cannot be more guns.”
Survivors and family members of those who have been killed in gun violence are also calling for stronger measures. On Thursday, Susan Orfanos, whose son survived a mass shooting in Las Vegas last year only to die in the Borderline, told a New York Times reporter: “He didn’t come home last night, and the two words I want you to write are: gun control. Right now – so that no one else goes through this. Can you do that? Can you do that for me? Gun control.”
As California has become more liberal in recent decades, and especially after President Donald Trump was elected, gun control is one of several issues – along with climate change, immigration and health care – that have placed the state firmly in opposition to the federal government. In the wake of mass killings, the state’s political leaders often find themselves pushing for more gun control within California while speaking out against the federal government’s unwillingness to take up the issue, and against the National Rifle Association’s positions.
“The National Rifle Association – I’ll say this – is bankrupt, morally, and they need to be held to account to their rhetoric and their actions,” Newsom said.
Newsom did not this week offer specific new measures that he would push for, but he did say that he would have signed some gun control bills that Brown had vetoed in recent years. Among those were bills that would have expanded restraining orders, to allow coworkers, school employees and mental health providers to ask courts to take away guns from someone.
Even with the country’s toughest gun laws, California has still had the most deaths from mass shootings since 1982, according to a database compiled by Mother Jones – 128 people killed. Florida, with roughly half the population of California, has the second most deaths from mass shootings over that time, 118 killed.
But California also has the highest population in the country, and no one knows how many mass shootings may have been prevented by the gun laws already in place in the state.
“What matters is not just the count but the rate,” said Garen Wintemute, an emergency room physician who also leads the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, which was created in the aftermath of the San Bernardino massacre to study how to prevent mass shootings. “And California’s rate is about half that of Florida’s.”
Most gun deaths are not from mass shootings, and the focus of the gun control movement is on reducing the overall number of gun deaths – in homicides, suicides and accidents. By that measure, California has been successful: It has cut its gundeath rate in half over the past 25 years, and California is among the states with the lowest rates, with 7.9 deaths per 100,000 residents in 2016, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.