CA has strict gun laws. What undermines their effectiveness?

Written by Amy Ta and Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Brian Hardzinski

Police officers detain a man, believed to be the Half Moon Bay mass shooting suspect, in Half Moon Bay, California, U.S., January 23, 2023, in this screengrab taken from a social media video. . Credit: Kati McHugh via REUTERS

On Monday night, seven people died and another was hospitalized in Half Moon Bay. The attack came in two waves at a pair of mushroom farms in the normally quiet seaside community south of San Francisco. The suspect was taken into custody, and authorities described the shootings as workplace violence. 

Hours later, another mass shooting took place in Oakland. One person was killed and seven were injured.

It all comes after Saturday’s massacre at a ballroom in Monterey Park, about an hour after the city wrapped its Lunar New Year Festival.

Dr. Garen Wintermute, an ER physician and the director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis, says it’s important to remember the personal impact of these shootings — how many people will never recover from the physical or psychological harm they’ve endured recently. 

Meanwhile, he points out that California’s mass shooting rate is much lower compared to other states. 

“Our firearm homicide rate is well below average. Our firearm suicide rate is among the lowest in the nation. And yes, for 20 years until the pandemic upended things, California's firearm violence rates, death rates were trending downward, while they were trending upward in most of the rest of the country.” 

He says California laws have prevented the majority of shootings. 

“The laws that we have don't prevent every single instance of firearm violence, but they prevent lots of them. And as a physician, if I've got a medication that works 80% of the time, but not 100% of the time, that medication is not a failure for the 20%. It is a success for the 80%.”

In 2021, a California judge struck down the state’s assault weapon ban. Wintemute says it’s an example of judicial sabotage, which can undermine California’s implementation of tougher gun laws. He adds that residents can also travel to nearby states to purchase these weapons. 

“It's generally illegal if you live in California to buy a gun in another state and bring it back. But people do it anyway.”

Meanwhile, as these events reoccur and many people feel hopeless, Wintemute says the difficulty stems from the expectation that other people — like Congress — should do something. However, everyone is responsible. 

“The majority of public mass shooters declare their intentions in advance by one means or another. And that gives all of us both the opportunity and the responsibility to bring such threats to people who can do something about them.”