The weekend shooting in Sacramento, Calif., which left six people dead and at least 12 others injured, happened just blocks from the capital, in a state where gun laws are the strictest in the country.
California has the most gun laws of any state: 107, according to Boston University’s State Firearm Laws Project.
But even when states make it harder to get guns, gun violence still happens all too often. It was one of the three deadliest shootings in the nation this year – and it came just weeks after four people were killed at a Sacramento County church.
So far, two people have been arrested on firearms charges for the weekend shooting – a flash of violence that has taken politicians from President Biden to Councillors in the Californian capital, to demand that more be done to fight against guns.
“The scourge of gun violence continues to be a crisis in our country, and we must resolve to end this carnage,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said the day after the shooting.
The question is, in a state that already has more gun restrictions than anywhere else in the United States, how far further can the law go?
California already has the strictest gun laws in the country
California not only has the most gun laws in the nation, but the state is also ranked number one by Giffords Law Center for preventing gun violence on its annual Gun Law Scorecard. fire. (The only other state to get an A grade is New Jersey.)
Ari Freilich, director of state policy at Giffords, says that’s because, overall, California has enacted the toughest laws in the most areas. The state restricts access to military-grade weapons, assault weapons, and high-capacity magazines. It was the first state in the nation to require point-of-sale background checks for ammunition, and also requires gun sales and transfers of ownership to be conducted through authorized dealers for verification antecedents. California law restricts access to firearms to those convicted of hate crimes and other acts of violence, as well as those under a prohibition order.
But to make sure all of these measures are effective, lawmakers have had to craft new laws to close the loopholes and keep up with technology and gun traffickers.
“Partly by doing more, there is a constant need to reassess what works and fill in the gaps,” says Freilich. “And there has been a strong commitment from the state and state leaders to continue to fill these gaps, continuing to work for more effective enforcement and replication of this which works.”
Lawmakers are considering at least 24 more bills
In December, Newsom ordered his administration to work with the legislature on a measure inspired by the controversial Texas abortion law known as SB 8. The Texas law allows private citizens to sue providers abortion provider and any other person who helps a woman to have an abortion. If they win, the law entitles them to a minimum of $10,000 in damages, plus attorneys’ fees.
Newsom called for a bill that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes, transports, imports into the state, or sells assault weapons or so-called “ghost guns.” As in Texas, those who prevail could be awarded statutory damages of at least $10,000 per violation plus costs and attorneys’ fees. A version of the bill was introduced in February.
“If states can now protect their laws from federal court scrutiny that likens assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives where Texas used it to put women at risk,” Newsom said.
But there are many more laws under consideration. So far this year, California lawmakers have proposed more than two dozen gun safety bills or bills for investments in violence prevention programs, Freilich said.
A bill would allow victims, as well as state and local governments, to sue the gun industry.
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Another bill under discussion would ban ghost guns in their entirety, not just their parts. Ghost Guns can be assembled from DIY kits and components. These kits allow people to build weapons without a serial number. They are essentially untraceable – hence the nickname “ghost”.
“We saw a market [of ghost guns] explode in recent years, basically circumventing strict gun safety laws by offering unassembled gun construction kits and because they are not defined as complete firearms, they are not not yet subject to state or federal gun laws,” Freilich says.
Online retailers can essentially sell the kits anonymously, without any background checks, sales records, or serial numbers. In 2020, California reportedly accounted for 65% of all ghost guns seized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Laws will take effect in July that “will require regular sellers of these products to be licensed by the state and to sell their products in accordance with a background check and sales record,” Freilich said.
Bill AB-1621 would regulate gun kits the same as other firearms, requiring serial numbers and background checks from buyers.
People are finding ways to get around gun laws
But in a country with hundreds of millions of guns, even states with strict gun laws are struggling to keep illegal guns off the streets.
“States like California that have taken strong action on gun safety are to some extent at the mercy of …neighboring states,” Freilich says. He cited the example of Arizona, where “today you can buy an unlimited supply of assault weapons with hundred-round magazines without background checks.”
It is no coincidence that Hawaii, the only state that is an island, has the lowest gun violence death rate in the country. (California has the seventh lowest rate.)
Just because a mass shooting happened in Sacramento doesn’t mean the state’s gun laws don’t have an impact, according to Freilich. But he says a lot more work still needs to be done.
The Sacramento shooting “took place despite earnest and effective efforts to protect the state’s residents,” Freilich said.
California Laws Will Face Big Judicial Tests
By adopting the strongest gun measures in the nation, California takes on another task: defending the constitutionality of these laws in a country where gun rights and control are a seemingly never-ending battle.
Last June, for example, a federal judge declared California’s assault weapons ban unconstitutional, calling it a “failed experiment.” A few weeks later, a panel of three judges of the court of appeal blocked this decision for the moment. The case could eventually go all the way to the Supreme Court.
The state measure banning high-capacity magazines was also challenged in federal court. She, too, could end up in the Supreme Court.