Some won­der if Cal­i­for­nia’s tough gun laws are enough

Tri-City Herald (Sunday) - - Depth - BY TIM ARANGO AND JEN­NIFER ME­D­INA

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 co-work­ers, 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.

De­spite its rep­u­ta­tion as tough on guns, there are pock­ets of sup­port for eas­ing con­trols, es­pe­cially in ru­ral, in­land ar­eas, and there are still plenty of gun own­ers in the state. Cal­i­for­nia has the sec­ond most reg­is­tered guns in the coun­try – more than 340,000, which is sec­ond to Texas, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics pub­lished by the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives. But on a per-capita ba­sis, Cal­i­for­nia ranks low, 44th, with 8.71 guns per 1,000 peo­ple.

Ian D. Long, the gun­man in the Thou­sand Oaks shoot­ing, and a Marine who had served in Afghanistan, drew the at­ten­tion of po­lice of­fi­cers in April when they were called to his house for a do­mes­tic dis­tur­bance. Men­tal health spe­cial­ists were called in, and dis­cussed with him his mil­i­tary ser­vice and pos­si­bil­ity of post-trau­matic stress disor­der, but de­ter­mined he was not dan­ger­ous enough to de­tain him and force him to re­ceive treat­ment.

JIM WIL­SON NYT

Gov.-elect Gavin New­som speaks at a news con­fer­ence Thurs­day at St. An­thony’s Foun­da­tion in San Fran­cisco, where he of­fered con­do­lences to the vic­tims of a mass shoot­ing that oc­curred hours ear­lier in the south­ern part of the state.

JENNA SCHOENE­FELD NYT

A vigil Thurs­day for those killed in a shoot­ing Wed­nes­day at Border­line Bar & Grill in Thou­sand Oaks, Calif.

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