California Scores In Bottom 10 on Gun Deaths … But Sill a Long Way to Go

THIS IS WHAT I KNOW-It’s been over a week since the Las Vegas Massacre that ended the lives of 58 people, as well as injuring almost 500 others. Since Columbine, we’ve watched coverage for far too many of these mass shootings. There are different faces attached to victims and the perpetrators. Typically, we hear about red flags. But each and every time, the display of violence sparks another gun control debate.

On one side are those who would wish for more regulations so that nobody can amass an arsenal like Paddock had acquired, no bump stocks that allowed him to fire hundreds of shots a minute from his hotel suite windows, causing a storm of bullets to hail from the sky. On the other side are those who say limiting guns will only keep them from the hands of law-abiding citizens, empowering criminals ever more.

At the center of that debate is the NRA. The National Rifle Association began in 1871 to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis” after two Union veterans, Col. William C. Church and Gen. George Wingate formed the organization, disappointed at the level of marksmanship in their troops. The state of New York gave them a charter and Civil War Gen. Ambrose Burnside became the NRA’s first president.

For over a century, the organization focused on training gun owners but in 1990, that all changed. The NRA established the NRA Foundation that raises millions of dollars to financially support the Second Amendment. The foundation remains an education and training resource for gun owners but it’s also become a powerful lobbying group.

Last Thursday, the NRA announced support for tighter restrictions on bump stock -- a device the Las Vegas shooter had attached to 12 of his guns. A bump stock is a plastic or metal mechanism attached to a semiautomatic, enabling the weapon to fire dozens of rounds of ammunition per second. This move is supported by bipartisan legislative members.

While federal laws such as the National Firearms Act (1934), Gun Control Act (1968), Firearms Owner’s Protection Act (1986), Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1993), the 1994 Omnibus Crime control act do legislate guns across the nation, the states also have their own laws regarding firearms.

Federal laws make certain people ineligible to “possess, receive, ship or transport” firearms or ammunition. These groups include anyone convicted of a crime who has served over a year in prison, fugitives, illegal users of certain drugs, those diagnosed with certain mental illnesses, anyone convicted of or issued a restraining order for domestic violence.

However, there is no comprehensive federal gun registration system. Federal law prohibits the use of background checks (National Instant Criminal Background Check) to create any registration system for guns or owners. The 1934 National Firearms Act does impose an excise tax and registration requirements for certain weapons, including machine guns and silencers, which must be registered under the NFA. Congress did ban the transfer and possession of machine guns but the legislation included a grandfather clause that allowed for ownership and transfer, as long as the ownership and transfer fell under the 1934 law.

What about online gun sales? The federal government does have domain over certain aspects of online gun sales. All guns purchased online are required to be shipped to someone who holds a Federal Firearms License. Guns purchased online must be shipped to a federally licensed gun shop where background checks, additional fees, and waiting periods must be followed.

Concealed-carry permits are not regulated by federal law -- and 12 states do not require concealed-carry permits. California law does not allow for the carry of concealed weapons without a Carry Concealed (CCW) license, issued only by a California county sheriff to that county’s residents or by the police chief to residents of that city.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence gave the state of California its only A rating in 2016. New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Maryland received A- ratings. Half of the 50 states received an F rating.

Last year, our state enacted a Safety for All ballot initiative, which requires background checks for ammunition purchases and bans large-capacity ammunition. Senator Dianne Feinstein joined a number of Democrats on October 4 to introduce the Automatic Gun Fire Prevention Act, a bill to close a loophole that allows the modification of semi-automatic firearms to fire at a rate of automatic weapons, which have been illegal since 1986.

We can be proud of the gun laws in our state. California is among the ten states with the lowest number of gun deaths. According to Center for Disease Control Statistics, California had a gun mortality rate of 7.7 per 100,000 in 2015, compared to over three times as many deaths in Alaska and Louisiana.

Despite our record, there’s still a long way to go. Seventy-two percent of homicides in our state last year involved guns. The number of gun mortalities in California increased last year -- reflecting a national trend; 47,541 gun-related incidents in the United States this year alone, including 11,885 deaths from guns; 556 children under the age of 11 have either died or been injured by guns in the first nine months of this year.

In the past 25 years, more domestic violence deaths have occurred by gun than by any other means. In 2011, over half of all female gun homicide victims were killed by a domestic partner; people with domestic violence history are five times more likely to murder a partner when a gun is in the home. Research by Everytown for Gun Safety concluded that 57 percent of the mass shootings between January 2009 and June 2014 were committed by a perpetrator who had murdered an intimate partner or family member with a gun. Between 2012-2014, an average of 1,297 children died each year from a gun-related injury, either by accident, suicide, or homicide. Shootings are now the third highest leading cause of death for U.S. children.

According to CDC statistics for 2014, the latest information available, there were 21,386 firearms suicides in the US, 6.7 per 100,000. Guns account for more suicide means than all other methods combined and about 85 percent more likely to end in death. Gun owners and their families are statistically more likely to die in a suicide attempt than non-owners.

The United States has far and away more gun deaths than any other industrialized country in the world, nearly 16 times more gun homicides per one million people than Germany. While the United States is home to just 4.4 percent of the world’s population, we own almost half of the world’s civilian-owned guns.

Suicides, homicides, and mass shootings are rooted in numerous societal and mental health issues but the prevalence of guns and their relatively easy availability in half of our states certainly has an impact. Safe and effective gun laws, protecting Americans from gun deaths and injuries, whether intentional or accidental, should be a priority and a nonpartisan issue.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a Los Angeles writer and a CityWatch columnist.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.