Gun Violence Prevention in California: Successful, But More to Do

By Griffin Dix

***Editor’s Note: The following article is one viewpoint on gun laws in California, the topic of the Treasurer’s Head to Head feature for October. On Oct. 20, an opposing viewpoint was published in the article “Things Are Not Fine Regarding Gun Laws.”

With each mass shooting Americans ask again, “How can we make our families safer?” California has some answers.

Since the 1989 Stockton schoolyard massacre, the state has enacted over sixty laws regulating firearms. These laws — the strongest in the country — make it harder for criminals and other dangerous people to acquire dangerous guns. They help law enforcement combat illegal firearms trafficking and seize illegally owned guns.

And California’s strong gun laws are helping save many lives. Since the peak U.S. and California firearm mortality rates of 1993, California’s rate has declined by 57% — more than double the reduction made in the rest of the nation (the U.S. population excluding California).

But we still need to do more to make our families and communities safe. Almost 3,000 Californians are killed with firearms each year, and many more are seriously wounded. Weak federal laws undermine California’s stronger ones. Almost one-third of the crime guns recovered by law enforcement in California and traced, were first sold in other states.

Here are four additional actions we can take that involve community participation or local and state budget items.

We should help local, state and federal law enforcement strengthen crime gun tracing systems which identify the sources of guns used in crimes. When local law enforcement agencies share their trace data with each other, they can better understand and reduce the flow of illegal crime guns into their communities.

We need to strengthen California’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS). If someone legally purchases a firearm but then commits a felony crime, for example, he can no longer legally own a firearm. The APPS program needs funding for more agents who enforce our laws and keep us safe.

We also need to fund regular inspections of gun dealers and gun shows in order to make sure they comply with California and federal laws.

Finally, California’s Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) law allows family members and law enforcement to petition a judge that a firearm should be temporarily removed from someone who, the evidence shows, is a serious danger to himself or others. We need to make sure that law enforcement, counselors, and the general public understand that this option is available if needed.

Many people are frustrated about gun violence. The problem seems intractable. But it isn’t — not in California. With your active participation, we can make our families and communities safer, and California will continue to be a model in gun violence prevention for the rest of the nation.

Griffin Dix, Ph.D., is Co-Chair of the Oakland/Alameda County Chapter, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. His son was shot and killed in 1994. He lives in Kensington, CA. The opinions in this article are presented in the spirit of spurring discussion and reflect those of the author and not necessarily the Treasurer, his office or the State of California.