California: The California Exception: How America’s Most Populous State Managed to Reduce Gun Violence | International
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On May 26, 2021, a 57-year-old employee of the San José city transportation network entered a train yard and killed nine colleagues. He later committed suicide. That massacre was a harsh reality check for California, the state with the strictest gun regulation in the United States. After tragedies like the one in Buffalo or the elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the country looks to the west to have a benchmark in gun control. The laws that have been approved in this territory since 1989 have given results, say local authorities. This despite the fact that California can’t quite shake off one of the nation’s great ills: The state experiences a mass shooting — any armed incident with at least four people injured or killed — every eight days.
Samuel James Cassidy, the perpetrator of the San Jose massacre, carried out the shooting in 10 minutes with three legally obtained semi-automatic pistols and high-capacity magazines, accessories prohibited in California. Unlike most recent mass kills, this one did not use the AR 15 rifle, a popular hobbyist weapon that deals massive damage.
Assault rifles have been banned in the region for 23 years. State authorities changed the rules after a man killed eight people and wounded six others in July 1993 in an office block at 101 California Street in San Francisco in just 15 minutes. This multiple shooting was a watershed that caused the most ambitious regulation in the State. Six years later, in July 1999, Governor Gray Davis, a veteran of the Vietnam War, enacted the toughest law in the country against assault rifles. “Guys, guns kill people. And assault rifles are an assault on our common values. Today California responds”, said the president on the day the rule came into effect, just a few months after the Columbine nightmare.
California, with almost 40 million inhabitants, is the State of the Union with the strictest gun regulation, according to the rating given by Giffords, a reputable center in favor of gun regulation that takes its name from Gabrielle Giffords, a congresswoman from Arizona who survived an attack 11 years ago. In California, no one under the age of 21 can own a gun, you are not allowed to be armed in public (unlike Texas), and a license issued by the local police is required to own a gun, which is extremely difficult in some large urban areas. . The legal design also allows judges to order the seizure of weapons from people who represent a threat to their families or society.
Episodes such as those experienced in Uvalde, Buffalo or Laguna Woods represent 3% of homicides in the most populous state in the United States. Californians are 25% less likely to die in a mass shooting than residents of Wyoming, South Carolina, Mississippi or Missouri. According to the California Public Policy Institute, the region has a homicide rate in this type of incident of 1.4 people per million inhabitants, 37% less than the national average. In short, it is the seventh state with the fewest victims of armed violence in the entire country, despite being the most populous in the nation.
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One worrying trend the institute notes is that racist attacks have been on the rise since 2015. One in five shootings are motivated by hatred of a minority. The most recent in California was in a Taiwanese church in Orange County, where a Chinese citizen tried to carry out a sacrifice of numerous parishioners, a horror that was prevented by a doctor who had accompanied his mother to mass. This corroborates the profile of the majority of aggressors, only 10 women have been the perpetrators in more than 400 incidents dating from January 2013.
President Joe Biden implored the Senate on Thursday to act and counter the epidemic of gun violence sweeping the United States. The president, in a message to the nation during prime time, asked legislators of both parties to approve a series of regulations at the federal level, including the prohibition of assault rifles and high-capacity chargers. “After Columbine, Orlando, Las Vegas, Parkland, nothing has been done,” said Biden from the White House, who as a senator voted against the ban on assault weapons that was in effect in the United States between 1994 and 2004. He also proposed raising the age to get high-powered rifles to 21, which would have prevented Salvador Ramos, Uvalde’s murderer, from buying two AR 15s and more than 300 bullets in just three days and just turned 18. . The relatives of the victims in New York and Texas sent a single message to the president: Do something.
Before the polarization that exists today in Washington, a massacre was reason enough for politicians to show an intention to change. In fact, the first gun control legislation passed in California came in 1989, when an AK-47 shooting left five Asian children dead in a Stockton schoolyard. This racist-tinged massacre caused politicians to mobilize. Back then, it was a Republican politician who introduced a rule with the approval of the National Rifle Association that made access to guns more difficult for people with criminal records and mental problems. This law was followed by the prohibition of dozens of specific models of weapons.
But gun control in California is experiencing a turbulent moment due to the culture war between the left and the right. Conservative pressure groups have launched a crusade to overthrow these measures, arguing that they are unconstitutional, since they go against the Second Amendment. This has caused a battle in the courts that has allowed the laws to remain in force thanks to the decisions of the federal circuit of appeals. The conservative majority on the Supreme Court, however, is also studying a series of rulings that could erase the progress made by California over several decades. “We are not going to give up and accept the state of things,” said Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, who promises by the end of June the enactment of a law that will allow companies to sue weapons manufacturers for damages.
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