More Gun Laws Wrong Response to Massacre

By Daily Editorials

December 28, 2015 4 min read

Almost all mass murders committed with guns prompt calls for tougher gun laws. The problem is, in pretty much every recent mass shooting in America, any newly proposed gun control law would not have stopped the crime, even if perfectly enforced.

In this month's horrific attack in San Bernardino, the guns were legally purchased, then illegally transferred and altered. California's gun laws already encompass most of the supposed "commonsense gun safety" laws President Obama and his party call for nationally.

The state already requires background checks on all transfers or sales of guns, not just guns sold by licensed firearms dealers. It already bans an arbitrary set of semiautomatic rifles that the state calls "assault weapons." (Even though rifles of all sorts are used in, at most, 2 percent of murders nationally.) California already bans high-capacity magazines that hold over 10 rounds and already highly restricts public carry licenses in most localities, with only around 70,000 issued in the state.

The rest of the country, though, has over the past couple of decades expanded public carry rights enormously, and seen gun crime plunge alongside.

An America without the possibility of gun violence is not reasonably achievable. But Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, already running hard for governor in 2018, seems to think more laws would end gun violence. He used the San Bernardino massacre to push a gun control initiative he was already promoting for next year's ballot.

That initiative would extend existing background-check requirements for gun purchases to ammunition as well. It would also extend the existing ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds to include currently grandfathered magazines. That would require trying to confiscate all existing such magazines and would create an instant new class of "criminals" statewide who have harmed no one.

Anyone concerned with the civil liberties of Californians might wonder if we need more contraband for overzealous police to hunt down in our homes, cars or on our persons, especially contraband that almost never causes any harm.

"What more evidence do you need that we need to step it up as it relates to gun safety in the state?" Newsom said after San Bernardino.

Gun control advocates don't talk about it much, but in the past 22 years, the rate of gun murders in this country has gone down by half. In the past decade, U.S. gun murder rates have dropped by 16 percent.

California has done even better, with gun homicides dropping 36 percent from 2005-14. We have no reason to believe our tough gun laws are significantly responsible for those great results. We've seen very large, though not quite as large, drops in all violent crime and property crime as well over the past decade, and gun laws can't be credited for that.

Social scientists agree that, despite our national gun murder plunge beginning after the national Brady Law background check was passed in 1993, that law was not the cause of the drop. Laws are easily breakable, and no amount of background checks can prevent the previously law-abiding from committing a crime with a gun, which is what we've seen in most prominent mass shooting tragedies. Laws are not why our gun violence trends are improving so much.

But those trends are real, and wonderful. Since gun laws more often restrict the rights of the peaceful and law-abiding than they prevent crimes against others, and since even the vast majority of most hideous public tragedies were not stopped by existing laws and would not have been stopped by proposed ones, there's no good reason to think we need more gun laws in California.


Photo credit: Colville-Andersen

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