Santa Clarita school shooting reminds us that gun control is misguided
The shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California on the 14th of November in which two students were murdered has once again drawn demands for new gun control laws. The killer, a sixteen-year-old who attended the high school, possibly obtained the handgun, a .45 caliber weapon of unspecified make, that he used by purchasing parts and assembling them himself. He is said to have fired “approximately six bullets,” having to clear a malfunction at one point and saving one round for himself. The killer’s father, who had died in 2017, was a gun owner and hunter who reportedly “used to make bullets,” which I assume means that he reloaded his own cartridges, though it could be that he cast projectiles as well.
The fact that American tinkerers build their own firearms and ammunition alarms gun control advocates, but as long as these things are not intended for sale, the practice is legal. In California, the new gun must have a serial number provided by the Department of Justice, the caliber, and the name and city and state of the maker engraved on the receiver — no word yet on whether or not the Santa Clarita killer bothered to do this. He was not deterred by the fact that he was too young to own a handgun or by the laws that make murder and the carrying of firearms into a secondary school illegal, so it would not be surprising to find that he neglected to comply with this requirement.
California is consistently rated by gun control groups as the best state in the union for its laws that restrict the possession of firearms. The thicket of regulation is wide and deep. In summary, if you want to be a legal gun owner, you will have a limited set of types that you can buy and there will be a lot of paperwork both for the gun and for its ammunition. If you wish to carry a handgun outside your home legally — something that, once again, the Santa Clarita shooter did not do — your ability to do so will be dependent on the county where you live and how acceptable to the sheriff you are, in addition to more yards of paperwork.
But for all of that, what is the state’s homicide rate? The fact that California and Texas consistently have rates that are within a couple tenths of a point of each other — 4.40 in California vs. 4.61 in Texas in 2018 — with one doing better than the other, then swapping in the following years suggests that gun control is not doing any good. The two states have large populations concentrated in big cities with broad stretches of agricultural land. Both are demographically mixed with non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics who are the descendants of people who lived in the regions when the United States swept in, and migrants from Central America. One has strict gun control, while the other has laws that increasingly respect gun rights. And the outcome with regard to how many residents per hundred thousand get murdered is the same.
What might have worked to stop the Santa Clarita shooting? The killer’s family history offers good places to start. His father was an alcoholic and suspected spouse abuser who, as mentioned above, died almost two years ago of a heart attack. The killer is believed to have been the one to find his father’s body. Would the typical progressive solution of universal healthcare that includes substance abuse treatment among other mental health services have saved this family? It is impossible to say in a specific case, but that is a policy choice that would improve the lives of millions and addresses the problems that appear to have contributed to the shooting. Add in more law enforcement resources devoted to investigating domestic violence and corrections resources to programs that divert abusers into better behavior, and we have a good set of answers.
What is clear is that California’s gun laws did not stop this incident. The state’s laws do not stop mass shootings, however we might define that term. If we are serious about reducing violence in America, we need to look at different solutions from the usual list of gun control demands.