stats Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels


  This site         Tips

  The Web Google


  Where to Find It

Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business



Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store

Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business




  Arts & Entertainment



   Headline Index

 Other Sections

  Births & Deaths






  Facts & Arguments




  Real Estate









  Food & Dining




  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...


   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site



  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us



 Web Site

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


What we can learn from California gun laws
Despite many firearms restrictions, the state is still plagued by mass shootings, leading experts to suggest legislation isn't enough

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Tuesday, August 13, 2019 – Page A7

SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- U.S. lawmakers looking to curb gun violence after last week's mass shootings in Texas and Ohio could take a lesson from California.

The state has long had the most restrictive gun laws in the United States, but continues to see more mass shootings than anywhere in the country.

California has more than a hundred gun laws on its books.

Many go back more than a decade, including a ban on assault weapons and restrictions on high-capacity magazines. The state has required background checks for all gun sales, including private transactions and firearms purchased at gun shows, since the 1990s. In 2016, it enacted "red flag" laws that allow police to seize firearms from people deemed a threat.

U.S. President Donald Trump offered support for both policies in the wake of shootings that left 31 people dead in El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio, with Mitch McConnell, Republican leader of the U.S. Senate, signalling he is open to passing new gun-control measures when senators return from a summer break in September.

But California's experience raises questions about whether this type of legislation alone is enough.

Despite its stringent laws, California has seen 33 mass shootings since 2000, more than any other state. There have been three in the past nine months that have killed 15 people.

Law-enforcement officials and experts in gun violence say many of the measures California has put in place are considered among the most promising ways to reduce gun violence and deter mass shootings. But they have been hampered by a poor rollout.

Databases used for background checks have been plagued by missing information and lengthy backlogs. Gun-violence restraining orders that let police confiscate weapons from high-risk people - put in place after mass shootings in Isla Vista and San Bernardino - have been rarely used because many police departments and prosecutors weren't even aware of them.

Mass shooters have continued to expose loopholes in California's laws. Last fall, former Marine Corps machine gunner Ian David Long killed 11 people inside a bar in Thousand Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles. Police had called in mental-health crisis workers to assess Mr. Long months before the shooting, but never tried to use the state's redflag laws to confiscate his guns.

In 2017, a gunman banned from owning firearms because of a restraining order used two homemade AR-15 style rifles to kill six people and shoot children at a local elementary school in Tehama County. Several recent Californian mass shooters have been able to acquire magazines that could hold up to 75 bullets, despite the state's longstanding ban on high-capacity magazines.

Earlier this year, California began limiting gun purchases to buyers who were at least 21 years old and requiring background checks to buy ammunition. But two of California's mass shooters this year were still legally allowed to buy semi-automatic rifles, even though both were just 19 years old.

Newly unsealed search warrants showed the gunman who attacked a synagogue near San Diego in April appeared to have a hunting licence, which may be how he was able to pick up his AR-15 style rifle from a local gun store the day before the shooting. Those with hunting licences are allowed to buy rifles starting at the age of 18 under an exemption to the state's new age restrictions.

Police say the teenager who killed three people at a weekend festival in Gilroy late last month purchased his AK-47 style rifle and high-capacity gun clips in neighbouring Nevada.

California has also been forced to revise its assault-weapon restrictions repeatedly to keep up with innovations from firearm manufacturers. It rewrote its assault-weapons laws for a third time in 2016, to close a "bullet button" loophole - named after a popular modification that had allowed gun owners to use a pointed object such as the tip of a bullet to quickly remove a magazine while still technically complying with the state's restrictions on detachable magazines.

Gun-violence researchers say laws such as background checks and firearm restraining orders are among the most important measures to curb mass shooters.

But California's experience shows how important it is for lawmakers to not just pass new legislation, but make sure it is properly implemented.

"Background checks can return false negative results (fail to identify prohibited persons) when information on prohibiting events isn't reported," Garen Wintemute, an emergency-room physician who leads a violence research project at the University of California, Davis, wrote in an e-mail. "Gun violence restraining orders aren't used often enough; they're new, and not well known."

Dr. Wintemute's team is preparing to publish a study this fall describing ways in which background-check policies fall short and recommending reforms, but he declined to elaborate.

California is home to an estimated 4.5 million legal firearms owners, but gun-violence restraining orders were used just 610 times in the first three years, with nearly half of them last year issued by a single county.

Santa Clara County deputy district attorney Marisa McKeown, a vocal proponent of the restraining orders, says her office has used them more than 40 times this year, up from just four in 2017. She regularly trains police officers on restraining orders and has encountered judges who have delayed issuing the emergency orders because they weren't familiar with them.

"It's an incredibly powerful tool. It fills a gap. It prevents shootings. It is effective," says Ms. McKeown, whose region includes the site of last month's mass shooting in Gilroy. "However, the police didn't know about it."

The biggest roadblock to California's firearm restrictions, however, may be the legal challenges by gun-rights groups. Earlier this year, a federal court judge in San Diego briefly overturned California's 19-year ban on high-capacity magazines in a ruling that referenced several cases of women terrorized by intruders after they ran out of ammunition and cited Nazi Germany's restrictions on Jews owning weapons as an example of the dangers that come when governments forcibly disarm their citizens.

The court reinstated the ban a week later pending the state's appeal. But in the eight days that the ban was lifted, the California Rifle & Pistol Association reported that gun owners in the state purchased "hundreds of thousands - if not millions" of highcapacity magazines in a buying spree the lobby group dubbed "Freedom Week."

Many of California's recent gun laws - including its assaultweapons bans and mandatory background checks for ammunition purchases that began this year - may ultimately end up being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, said Stanford University law professor John Donohue.

The court is poised to hear its first Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) case in nearly a decade this year. The case, involving a New York law banning gun owners from transporting their handguns outside the city, could have major consequences for state and local gun restrictions - and for efforts by Congress to expand federal gun laws.

While much of focus of the Trump administration's appointments of conservative judges such as Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court had been on what it will mean for state abortion laws, Dr. Donohue believes state and local gun-control laws may instead be country's next major legal battle.

"In many ways, this is a much bigger deal than the abortion decision," he said. State laws allowing access to abortion would still remain even if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

"But if the gun decision is made on a federal constitutional basis, that would mean that California, and New York, and Illinois, will have to have the gun regulations of Alabama and Mississippi."

Associated Graphic

People leave a funeral on Aug. 6 for a victim killed in a mass shooting at a weekend festival in Gilroy, Calif., last month. Police say the teenager who killed three people at the festival bought his AK-47-style rifle and high-capacity gun clips in Nevada.


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Leah_McLaren Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.


7-Day Site Search

Breaking News

Today's Weather


Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes

Where Manley is going with his first budget



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
Margaret Wente arrow
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game

Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
Mathew Ingram arrow
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
Andrew Willis arrow

Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
Eric Duhatschek arrow
Allan Maki arrow
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
 The Arts

John Doyle arrow
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
Johanna Schneller arrow

Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
Paul Knox arrow
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
William Thorsell arrow

Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page