Complexities in California: The Paradox of Gun Violence and Governmental Polarization
By: Anushka Tadikonda
Friday, a 26-year-old — shot outside a Tesla Distribution Center in Livermore, California. Friday, three people — shot, including one fatally, at an agricultural nursery in Southern California. Saturday, a woman — shot at a San Ramon apartment complex. Sunday, two men — shot and killed outside of a Fresno, California, hookah lounge.
One weekend, four shootings. Four shootings out of many reported, out of hundreds transpired in California. In the beginning of 2023, California faced two mass shootings: Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay; both of which called for a revival of the fading focus on gun violence. While it remains imperative to write and discuss those mass shootings, we must also look at local, smaller ones too, as many individuals see shootings as rare and isolated. Even for those individuals that do subscribe to the notion of normalized gun violence, the acknowledgement that shootings occur on a daily basis is often avoided. That notion is further promoted in states like California, where gun laws reign supreme in numbers. With over 100 laws on the books, California seems to take the trophy for the safe zone in a nation where guns hold dominion with loose laws over their heads. However, commonplace shootings have shocked Californians as well as drawn attention to the dependability of the state’s laws.
As of now, there are several loopholes and issues embedded into the state’s anti-firearm framework. California does not always require gun owners to surrender firearms that were once legal but are now illegal. Furthermore, guns cannot be taken from people who have engaged in risky behavior but have not been properly identified by the courts or law enforcement. With the rapid advancement of gun technology, the state has to now also deal with issues like the illegal gun trade, a continual flow of unregistered "ghost" guns, and an infusion of firearms from nearby states with laxer laws.
In light of its reputation for swift action in response to attacks, how is California tackling the urgent need to address the epidemic of daily shootings with already sound, yet seemingly flawed, policies enforced?
Gavin Newson recently stated, “America is number one in gun ownership and we far surpass every developed nation on Earth in gun deaths – it’s not complicated. In California, we’ve passed common sense gun safety laws and they work: we have a 37% lower gun death rate than the national average.” Senate Bill 2 has been declared as a huge step in strengthening California’s gun safety laws. The legislation prioritizes the augmentation of the current licensing system, with a particular focus on upholding the responsibility and lawfulness of those authorized to bear firearms in public spaces. The bill also highlights the imperative of safeguarding children by mandating a minimum age requirement of 21 years for obtaining a Carry Concealed Weapon license as well as advancing stringent training prerequisites. While the Senate Bill does propose ideal circumstances for a state in a gun rampant country, the question remains if it’s pragmatic enough to be passed and enforced well.
Amidst the perplexity surrounding California's stringency on gun control and the apparent paradox of the state's high rates of gun violence, the government continues to promote legislation that curtails access to firearms. Still, there are judicial barriers that stand in the way of the state government’s plan.
California district judge, Roger Benitez, who is known for his strong support of overturning numerous gun laws in California, has set his sights on dismantling the state's longstanding ban on assault weapons. This law prohibits the sale, transfer, and ownership of firearms such as semi-automatic rifles, as well as guns that are equipped with detachable magazines and pistol grips, among others.
Furthermore, following the Supreme Court Bruen decision, states mostly lost their rights to enhance gun restrictions and create new pieces of legislation that would impede gun owners’ rights. Although Governor Newson promised that even more gun legislation would be adopted following the two mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, the limitations to state governmental ability truncated his promises.
The federal restrictions imposed on California’s government coupled with uncertainty about the future of specific pertinent gun laws speaks volumes following everyday shootings that are seldom discussed in news segments. As much as many would argue that our liberal nature and robust laws keep us completely safe from firearms, recent tragedies reveal the need for continued advocacy. It is imperative now, more than ever, to identify how to fix California’s gun problem, and the solution may not just be at a state level. California’s gun problem is America’s gun problem. To fix our systemic issues we must advocate to close the loopholes within the state government while also staying focused on our nation as a whole.