California mass shooting: Gun laws in the state are stricter than in the rest of US, but are they enough?


America once again saw a mass shooting on Sunday during Lunar New Year celebrations in California’s Monterey Park, a majority Asian-American city on the eastern edge of Los Angeles. The mass shooting, one of the deadliest in California’s recent history, claimed the lives of 10 people — five men and five women.

The gunman, now identified as 72-year-old Huu Can Tran, was later found dead inside a white van. Police say he shot and killed himself inside the white van that police officers had surrounded earlier.

Investigators in the case are yet to ascertain the motive behind the shooting, but in a press conference they said that they found several guns, including a semi-automatic pistol in the suspect’s van.

President Joe Biden reacting to the shooting has ordered flags to fly at half-staff at the White House and other federal buildings until sunset on Thursday. He said, “Jill and I are thinking of those killed and injured in last night’s deadly mass shooting in Monterey Par. While there is still much we don’t know about the motive in this senseless attack, we do know that many families are grieving tonight, or praying that their loved one will recover from their wounds.”

The shooting has once again thrown spotlight on the issue of gun control in the United States, with Los Angeles Sheriff Robert Luna noting that California has, in the American context, relatively strict gun control laws. “The status quo’s not working,” he said. “We need to re-examine what we’re doing and what may work better.”

2023 follows previous year’s trend

The shooting at Monterey Park is America’s fifth such shooting in the new year and the deadliest since 21 people were killed in a school in Uvalde, Texas, according to the AP/USA Today database on mass killings in the country.

Mass shootings continue to be common in the US; according to the Gun Violence Archive website, there were a whopping 647 shootings with four or more victims in 2022. In fact, the year 2022 was the second-highest year of mass shootings in the United States on record. The previous year, 2021, saw 692 mass shootings.

Analysts and many others state that there is a direct correlation in states with weaker gun laws and higher rates of gun deaths, including homicides, suicides and accidental killings. Those who are lobbying for stronger gun control observe that states where there are more restrictions, mass shootings are fewer.

Also read: Joe Biden wants to raise minimum age for purchasing arms from 18 to 21: Will this help in fight against gun violence?

California’s strict anti-gun laws

This brings the issue of gun laws in California — which according to advocacy groups is ranked as the top state in the nation for gun safety. The American state is among those with the lowest firearms mortality rates in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It ranked seventh lowest nationwide with 8.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2020 — well below the nationwide average of 13.7

Many believe that California’s progressive leadership is the reason why it is so tough on guns.

Today, California has some of the strictest laws when it comes to firearms; there are mandatory waiting periods and background checks for firearm purchases in the state. The state also bans so-called military-style assault weapons, and, in 2016, it became one of the first states to pass a red-flag law, which permits authorities to remove firearms from someone believed to be a danger to themselves or others.

According to a report in the Washington Post, California’s gun safety measures are a result of a series of shootings decades ago, including the 1989 slaughter of children in a Stockton schoolyard and a 1993 mass killing in a law office in downtown San Francisco.

In 2022, the state on the West Coast passed additional laws, making the sale of firearms more difficult. California governor Gavin Newsom signed five gun laws into legislation after they were passed by the California State Senate.

The laws signed in were AB 2571, which prohibits the marketing of certain firearms to minors, as well as AB 1621, which further restricts ghost guns, including the parts used to build them. The governor also signed in AB1594 — allowing gun violence victims and the state attorney general to sue gun manufacturers and distributors who fail to establish “reasonable controls to protect public health and safety.”

Also included in the package was AB 2156, which cracks down on the manufacture of firearms by prohibiting any person, regardless of federal licensure, from manufacturing firearms without a state licence. It also prohibits unlicensed individuals from using 3D printing to manufacture any firearm or precursor part.

The last bill, signed on 22 July, was SB 1327. This law allowed for private citizens to bring civil action against anyone who manufactures, distributes, transports or imports assault weapons or ghost guns, which are banned in the state.

However, in December last year, a federal judge blocked this legislation, championed by Governor Newsom. The judge, Roger Benitez, has also blocked several other state gun-control measures, including efforts to limit the size of ammunition magazines.

In addition to sale of firearms, California also has stricter laws pertaining to ammunition. One can’t order ammunition online in the state; it can be picked up from an authorised dealer that must perform the background check.

Also read: Spotlight on NRA: Leading gun lobby and its outsized influence in US politics explained

The state also bans high-capacity magazines (not holding more than 10 bullets) — a ban upheld by the federal appeals court, saying the state’s restriction on the size of magazines “only minimally interferes with the right to self-defence, and there is no evidence that anyone was unable to defend their home and family due to the lack of high-capacity magazines”.

The Sunday’s shooting, however, shows that California isn’t totally safe from mass shootings and that the state, as well as the country needs to do more to ensure their citizens’ safety.

With inputs from agencies

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California mass shooting: Gun laws in the state are stricter than in the rest of US, but are they enough?
California mass shooting: Gun laws in the state are stricter than in the rest of US, but are they enough?
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