Shooting in California mall tests the efficacy of gun control
A man shooting himself in Great Mall in Milpitas, California near San Jose on the 20th of December resulted in the shopping complex being locked down until cleared by police officers. The mall in question belongs to the Simon Property Group, a corporation that bans weapons from their property. And the state in which the incident occurred is notorious for having among the worst gun laws in the country.
The shooting was apparently an accident, suggesting that the man was carrying a firearm illegally and did something foolish with it. This raises once again the discussion about how successful gun control regulations — whether corporate policy or something that is legislated by the state — can be. If someone can bring a firearm into a facility that forbids such things and behave badly with it when people generally are supposed to be maintaining some level of distancing under medical guidelines during a pandemic, the implication is that such efforts at control are so much busywork with no promise of reducing incidents of injuries and deaths.
This is a claim that gun control advocates will challenge, and so I will defend it in detail. For one thing, California’s homicide rate plants the state in the middle of the nation’s rankings, a rate of 4.8 per hundred thousand as of 2018, the last year available from the CDC. The standard objection here is that I am talking about overall homicides, not those committed with firearms, though dead is dead. But very well, consider the breakdown by method. Of the 1,739 murders in the state in that year, 1,177 were from gunfire, about two-thirds of the total. This is more or less in common with the whole of the country, without much link between the state’s laws and the weapons that murderers favor. And it is important to remember that California’s laws score consistently as the most restrictive throughout the United States. If that much control only results in a middling death rate, it is worth considering whether other solutions would work better while not burdening people who are not doing anything wrong.
In an effort to save gun control, its advocates will say that California’s laws are hampered by other states with less restrictive control. In their view, guns flow in because we lack a national policy that is strong enough to address the problem. And yet, according to Jill Snyder, an agent of the ATF, California is primarily its own source for guns used in crime. When guns come to the Bay Area, a part of the state that is even more restrictive, they are likely to be California guns. And even if this were not the case, I ask supporters of gun control to tell me when we have managed to keep out of the country smuggled goods that are in high demand. Were we to impose California’s laws nationwide without changing the forces that drive crime, we would see guns imported illegally across our borders that by necessity, by choice, and by practicality, are not too difficult to cross.
The shooting has been ruled an accident, and the circumstances are not clear — why was the man carrying a firearm, what did he do with it — so it is impossible to say specifically what would have made this incident less likely. Speaking broadly, however, we can say that things like ending the war on drugs, guaranteeing healthcare that includes treatment for mental illnesses and drug addiction, and reducing income inequality are programs that reduce violence. I will add that if we respected the gun rights of Americans, there would be less of a mystique surrounding the possession and carry of firearms and more willingness to treat them as something that must be used responsibly. If this incident is like others — such as when Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself with a pistol that was stuck into the waistband of his pants without benefit of holster — a little bit of research by the victim about proper weapons handling may have gone a long way toward prevention.
But that is as may be. California’s gun laws are the sort of regulation that makes life more difficult for the law-abiding, while doing little to burden those intent on causing harm and little to slow down the incompetent. This is not a proper exercise of the law.