By Pamela Engel
California, the state with the strictest gun laws in the country, has seen a 56 percent drop in its gun death rate in the past 20 years, according to a study that the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence released last week. The study points out that 5,500 Californians were killed by gunfire in 1993, but that number dropped to 2,935 by 2010. The number of people per 100,000 who were killed by guns also dropped dramatically from 1990 to 2010 (see chart at right, and note that the numbers on the Y axis seem to be spaced unevenly).
While violent crime (including gun deaths) dropped everywhere in the U.S. during the 1990s, gun deaths declined even more in the Golden State. The nonprofit Law Center argues that there's a correlation between the state's strict gun laws and the dramatic drop in the number of deaths from gun violence. This theory is bolstered by other studies done elsewhere—a Center for American Progress study found that states with the weakest gun laws have the highest rates of gun violence, and a study released by Boston Children's Hospital in March found that states with more gun laws have fewer gun-related deaths.
Gun restrictions similar to California's have failed in some other states. Here's a sampling of the regulations the Law Center says have contributed the state's dramatic reduction in gun deaths:
- In 1994, the state passed a law that prohibits people who are subject to a domestic violence restraining order from possessing a firearm.
- In 1999, the state passed a law banning individuals from buying more than one handgun in a 30-day period as part of an effort to fight gun trafficking.
- In 1999, the state began requiring a one-feature test for assault weapons to prevent manufacturers from modifying a banned weapon to make it legal.
- In 2000, the state passed a law banning the sale and manufacturing of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
- In 2004, the state made it illegal to posses, manufacture, or sell 50-caliber, military-style firearms.
Of course, there are still ways to evade the law. The man who went on a shooting rampage earlier this year at Santa Monica College and killed five people allegedly used a semiautomatic rifle he built himself with parts he purchased from various sources across the country. But still, there does appear to be some value in California's strict regulations and the effect they have had on gun violence in the state.