The modern American gun debate began on May 2, 1967, when 30 protesting members of the Black Panther Party marched into the California Capitol with loaded handguns, shotguns and rifles.

by Ben Christopher

In the years since, California’s progressive politicians have layered on restrictions while gun owners and manufacturers continue to try to find their way out of them.

As photos of gun-toting radicals from Oakland hit front pages across the country, many Americans were shocked to see who was embracing the Second Amendment. In California, as in most states at the time, there were few restrictions on carrying loaded weapons in public.

That soon changed. The Panthers’ efforts to “police the police” already had led Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford to propose legislation to ban the “open carry” of loaded firearms within California cities and towns. After the Panthers showed up in the Capitol, his bill sailed through and was signed by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan. (Yes, that Reagan). It’s hard to say which now seems more unlikely: that two dozen revolutionaries could legally stroll into the state Assembly chamber with semi-automatic rifles, or that a Republican governor would champion stricter gun control.

In the years since, California’s progressive politicians have layered on restrictions while gun owners and manufacturers continue to try to find their way out of them.

The battle continues. New Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced “a gun lobby willing to sacrifice the lives of our children to line their pockets.” A National Rifle Association spokesman predicts the Trump-altered Supreme Court means “winter may very well be coming for gun laws in California.” So while Newsom and the Democratic Legislature try to add new restrictions, gun advocates are going to court to overturn existing ones.

How Strict Are California’s Gun Laws Compared to Other States?

California has a reputation for being tough on guns. That reputation is well-earned.

Researchers at Boston University have counted 109 California laws that in some way restrict “the manner and space in which firearms can be used.” They include regulations on dealers and buyers, background check requirements, and possession bans directed at certain “high risk” individuals.

By their count, no other state out-regulates California when it comes to sheer quantity of rules. And we’ve held that top spot since at least 1991, the year the researchers started counting.The Giffords Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control advocacy group, awarded California its only “A” grade in its 2017 state gun law scorecard.

“There are not a lot of As out there,” said Ari Freilich, the organization’s California legislative affairs director. “California has driven the conversation nationally.”

In contrast, Guns and Ammo magazine labeled California the 5th worst state for gun owners. (Washington D.C. was the top jurisdiction, followed by New York.)

California Pattern: Tragedy, Legislation, Repeat

The story of how California became, according to many, the state with the nation’s most restrictive gun laws has largely followed a familiar pattern:  alarm or tragedy, then a legislative response.

Getting Specific: What Are California’s Gun Rules?

Guns laws cover the who, what, where, when and how of buying, selling, lending, leasing, storing and firing guns. By national standards, California law is strict on just about all of these points. is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

One Response

  1. Martin

    All those rules and yet it doesn’t stop….more rules and still it doesn’t stop. Sorry to be so cliche…but definition of insanity. Unless the entire world agrees to get rid of their guns, the only people that will abide by gun laws are law-abiding citizens. People that commit murder, whether one, or a mass-shooting, are by definition not “law-abiding”. I know it’s been said more than a million times, but it is just simple logic; pass a law to get rid of ALL guns and the only guns you will get rid of are the ones that are owned by “law-abiding” citizens.

    Politicians love simple solutions to complex problems, even if the solutions they are proposing do not correlate directly with cause and effect. Given the circumstances, it might be better to ask, what is it about our society in general that has created an environment where we have more gun laws than ever, but still have a perceived problem with shooting incidents. I say perceived, because while every premature death is saddening, statistics would dictate that we ban blunt objects, knives, and bad drivers over guns if it was simply about actually reducing premature deaths.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

We've got issues, and we're willing to share
(but only if you want them in your inbox).