Californians have the nation’s toughest gun control laws, but they also own about 40 million pistols, rifles and shotguns.
There wasn’t much said about law-abiding gun owners, however, as two state legislative committees conducted a hearing Tuesday on “gun violence and firearms law in California.”
The hearing ran for more than three hours, but the leaders of the two committees, arguably the Legislature’s two most liberal members, loaded the agenda with witnesses who advocated for even more gun control. They left only a few minutes for a couple of brief statements from two gun rights advocates.
Unfair? Perhaps, but it reflected the dominant Capitol attitude that guns are inherently evil and should be restricted as much as possible – or eliminated altogether, were constitutional gun ownership rights to be altered. The surge of legislation introduced recently to control guns and ammunition testifies to that attitude.
However, whether that sentiment is widespread among Californians is questionable. They already own, on average, more than one gun per resident, they are legally buying more than a million additional firearms each year, and anti-gun ballot measures have not been successful.
Conflicting sentiments and constitutional law aside, would making gun purchases and ownership more difficult and/or more costly also make gun violence less likely?
Perhaps, if it were aimed specifically at reducing the incidence of mass killings such as the schoolhouse massacre in Connecticut, which are usually committed by people with histories of mental illness.
However, as emerged during the hearing, California already has a backlog of nearly 20,000 people who are legally prohibited from owning guns because of criminal or mental health records and are known to possess about 40,000 weapons.
The backlog is not being reduced because the same Legislature that wants to pass more gun laws has not adequately financed the Department of Justice unit that seizes those illegal weapons.
Moreover, many of the conditions that gun control advocates cited – such as felons purchasing ammunition freely – are already illegal. In fact, it emerged that the “realignment” of the criminal justice system to reduce prison populations may have had the inadvertent effect of downgrading enforcement of those laws.
Finally, there’s no persuasive evidence that writing even more restrictive gun control laws would have any deterrent effect on street gangs or other gun-wielding criminals who are, after all, already operating outside the law.
Mostly, they would make gun ownership more expensive and difficult for the law-abiding, and perhaps encourage the trade in bootleg firearms – much as anti-drug laws have sustained the lucrative illegal drug trade.
Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.