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California gun laws and the Las Vegas shooting

People gather in Las Vegas to mourn the victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting. (Photo: Pulsipher Photography, Shutterstock)

With the toughest gun laws in the nation, California has a few regulations on the books that potentially could have lessened the carnage in the Las Vegas shooting if those laws had been enacted in Nevada.

California outlaws bump stocks and large-capacity magazines, both of which shooter Stephen Paddock used to kill 58 people and wound more than 500 Oct. 1 at a country music festival on the Las Vegas strip.

“Gun laws haven’t eradicated gun violence but they sure make the difference.” — Ari Freilich.

While there is no evidence at this point that it would have prevented the tragedy, California also has a gun violence restraining order law that allows family members and law enforcement officers to ask a court to temporarily restrict someone they believe is dangerous from possessing guns.

The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a national organization based in San Francisco, contends that gun laws do reduce fatal shootings.

“Gun laws haven’t eradicated gun violence but they sure make the difference,” said Ari Freilich, a staff attorney at the center. “Other states can look to California as a model of what can be done.”

Nevada has weak laws compared to California, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In its gun law scorecard, the center gave Nevada a C- while California got an A.

In 1993, California recorded nearly 5,500 gun-related fatalities. At that time, the center says in a fact sheet, the state had weak restrictions and California’s gun death rate was higher than the national average.

“All of us who cherish freedom recognize that California’s political environment has grown more hostile to the Second Amendment in recent years.” — NRA

Fast forward to 2015 after numerous stricter gun laws were enacted: The state counted 3,095 gun deaths, a drop of 56 percent in 22 years.

California’s restrictive gun legislation has been and continues to be fought by the National Rifle Association of America, which sees the laws as threatening individual choice.

“All of us who cherish freedom recognize that California’s political environment has grown more hostile to the Second Amendment in recent years,” says a statement on the group’s website. “But we won’t back down. With all of us fighting against the tide, we can restore our firearms freedom.”

The NRA didn’t respond to an email request for an interview about whether stronger gun laws might have prevented the Las Vegas shooting.

California’s move to pass tougher gun laws began after the 1989 school yard shooting in Stockton when a gunman killed five children and wounded 32 others.

Twenty-three firearms were recovered in Paddock’s hotel suite and 12 of those were semi-automatic rifles outfitted with bump stocks.

Bump stocks were prohibited by California in the early 1990s. A bump stock is an attachment that enables a semi-automatic rifle to fire as fast as a fully automatic weapon. Without bump stocks, the Las Vegas shooter wouldn’t have been able to cause so many fatalities, said Amanda Wilcox, state policy chair for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“Clearly there would be fewer casualties if you couldn’t maintain rapid fire,” she said.

Large-capacity magazines are also generally illegal in California. In this state, you have to pause to reload after 10 rounds. While the reload time is short – just a few seconds – it gives people a chance to run away to safety, Wilcox said. Audio of the Las Vegas shooting show that the shooter fired many more rounds in a row than that.

The shooter didn’t have to reload because he had several guns set up ready to go. News reports said 23 firearms were recovered in Paddock’s hotel suite and 12 of those were semi-automatic rifles outfitted with bump stocks.

While it may not have worked in Paddock’s case, California’s relatively new gun violence restraining order, which went into effect in 2016, could be helpful in preventing shootings. So far, there have been no reports that those close to Paddock knew he was planning such a horrible attack. But sometimes, family members can see signs that a relative is on the verge of going on a gun rampage.

The law was passed in response to the Isla Vista shooting in May 2014 when a young man killed six people and injured 14 near the campus of the University of California at Santa Barbara. The shooter did exhibit warning signs of coming violence but there were no legal means at that time for his parents or law enforcement to take action.

Garen Wintemute, director of the newly created University of California Firearm Violence Research Center at UC Davis’ Sacramento campus, said it’s important to remember that public mass shootings count for only 1 to 2 percent of all firearm deaths in the United States.

While the Las Vegas shooting accounted for 58 deaths, nationwide an average of 97 people each day die due to firearm violence, including homicide and suicide.

He also pointed out that the circumstances of each mass shooting are different.  “Strategies to prevent the last one may not play into preventing the next one,” he said.

Wintemute believes any policies developed to prevent shootings will need to be broad to have a significant effect.

“It’s important for us to remember our obligation as a society is not just to prevent one type of violence but to try to prevent all of it,” he said.


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