We don’t know enough about gun owners in California. Researchers want to know why

A new survey by UC Davis researchers attempts to explore lesser-known facts about gun ownership in California.

Early results from the 2018 California Safety and Wellbeing Survey shows 10 percent of gun owners in the state own about half of all firearms. The majority of gun owners, about 54 percent, have one or two firearms, according to the survey.

What’s more, the survey found that a quarter of respondents said they did not get a background check when they bought a gun, said Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, a researcher who led the study.

“We have only about 75 percent of our respondents reporting that they had a background check done when they bought their most recent firearm in California, so that means anywhere from one in four and one in five people not having a background check,” Kravitz-Wirtz said.

“(This) does not bode well for the implementation and the enforcement of California’s comprehensive background check law which has been in place since the 1990s.”

Other highlights from the survey, which was fielded in October, include:

  • In California, some 4.2 million people own firearms and about half of them own more than one. However, most California residents (71 percent) do not live in a household with any firearms.

  • About a quarter of firearm owners have one firearm that is a handgun and 14 percent own just one firearm that is a long gun.

The survey builds on a body of work completed by the university’s Violence Prevention Research Program, including a recent study that concluded gun control policies from the early 1990s did not significantly affect the firearm homicide or suicide rates in the decade after becoming law.

UC Davis questioned more than 2,500 California residents in a web-based survey on several topics related to firearms and violence. According to Kravitz-Wirt, it was the first time in at least 40 years a survey of its kind was completed at the state level.

“In general, both nationally but even more so at the state level, data on basic questions around firearms is almost completely lacking,” Kravitz-Wirtz said. “We have decent numbers around deaths and mortality related to firearm violence but (not) when it comes to the fundamentals like who owns firearms; how do they sort them; what do they do with them.

“We just don’t have that information and that’s the gap that we were trying to fill in part with this survey and to really galvanize additional research and to be able to inform policy and practice.”

The subject of gun violence has become a particular concern after the bar shooting in Thousand Oaks where a gunman opened fire and killed 12 people. Kravitz-Wirtz said researchers plan to publish a full version of the results early next year.

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