Inevitably, last weekend’s horrendous fusillade of bullets on a downtown Sacramento street that left six people dead and at least a dozen wounded generated demands for new gun controls in state that already has the nation’s most restrictive firearms laws.
However, if anything, what happened just two blocks from the state Capitol underscores the folly of believing that “gun violence” can be meaningfully reduced by trying to choke off the supply of firearms – any more than the prohibition of liquor or the war on drugs succeeded.
Laws Hassle Law-Abiding Gun Owners
The state’s gun laws have hassled law-abiding hunters and gun hobbyists and some are in danger of being declared unconstitutional. However, Californians already own more than 20 million rifles, shotguns and handguns and are buying hundreds of thousands more each year.
Nor have these laws prevented the lawless from obtaining weapons via theft, smuggling from other states or the illicit manufacture of untraceable “ghost guns.” Indeed, state restrictions have made the black market even more lucrative, mirroring the side effects of Prohibition and the decades-long drug war.
Initial evidence indicates that those who fired more than 100 rounds in a street crowded with bar and nightclub patrons probably were violating one or more gun laws. The two brothers that police arrested and are suspected of involvement in the mass shooting were charged with illegal possession of weapons – one for possession of an illegal fully automatic firearm.
So why, if California’s much-vaunted gun control laws have failed to choke off the supply of legal and illegal weapons, do politicians continue to claim that enacting even more will have an effect?
Some may believe it, the evidence notwithstanding, while others want to appear to be doing something about a problem because they don’t have any other answers. And those who propose and enact new gun laws are often woefully ignorant about guns or even existing laws.
‘Gun Show Loophole’ a Myth
In the aftermath of the shooting, Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg lamented to a radio interviewer about California’s difficulty in reducing the number of guns, saying, “You just have to go to a gun show in Reno to buy an assault weapon without a background check and come right back to California.”
Advocates of more laws often cite a “gun show loophole” but it’s a myth. Under federal law, one must be a resident of Nevada and undergo a federal background check to legally buy a gun in Reno.
Moreover, while California professes to have banned “assault weapons,” the state’s definition of them involves cosmetic features, rather than their lethality. Perfectly legal semi-automatic rifles that lack those features are available for sale everywhere in the state.
The newest effort at gun control in California, backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, would authorize personal lawsuits against the manufacturers and sellers of illegal assault rifles or ghost guns, mirroring a new Texas law allowing suits against those who perform abortions.
Latest Proposal a Stunt
The legislation, Senate Bill 1327, is just a stunt – one of Newsom’s periodic jabs at a rival state. Those who could be sued under the bill are already committing criminal acts in California and a federal law prohibits suits against manufacturers of legal firearms, including the “assault weapons” that California and a few other states purport – but fail – to outlaw.
The bottom line is this: Actor Alec Baldwin’s claims notwithstanding, guns don’t fire on their own. Someone must accidentally or purposely pull the trigger and that should be the focus of efforts to reduce violence – such as more vigorous enforcement of laws banning gun possession by felons and those under court order.
About the Author
Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He began his professional career in 1960, at age 16, at the Humboldt Times. For more columns by Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.