Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Court ruling indicates California gun laws may go too far

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

For years, California has had some of the nation’s toughest gun control laws, but that hasn’t deterred its politicians from writing ever more restrictions on sale and possession of firearms and ammunition.

The 2013 legislative session was an especially active venue for gun control proposals, with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg the chief advocate for doing “everything we can to lessen the carnage in our streets.”

Steinberg’s measure to prohibit semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, dubbed “assault weapons” by their foes, was the centerpiece of the gun control package – although it would have restricted many guns devoted to hunting and target shooting. And it was too much for Gov. Jerry Brown to swallow.

“I don’t believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights,” Brown said in his veto message.

Brown did sign some other gun control measures, however, and California still may have the nation’s toughest such laws.

Perhaps – as Brown implied in his veto message – it’s going too far, piling on gun restrictions zealously with little thought to their efficacy and even less to their constitutionality.

The era’s four most gut-wrenching political issues have been capital punishment, abortion, gay marriage and gun control, and all four involve either explicit or implicit constitutional rights.

California has been expansive of rights in the first three, and a federal appellate court seems to be telling California that it cannot continue to restrict gun ownership without violating the Bill of Rights’ guarantee of the right to bear arms.

The court declared that a state law giving local law enforcement officials control of who can and cannot carry concealed weapons is unconstitutional because it denies law-abiding residents the right to protect themselves.

The U.S. Supreme Court will likely have the final word on how far states may go to control guns, but regardless of the outcome, it’s high time that our politicians approach the issue with logic and fact, rather than emotion and supposition.

Despite Steinberg’s comments about reducing “carnage in our streets,” the fact is that California’s very restrictive gun laws have not lowered its gun homicide rate below those of states with much looser laws.

Our rate, 3.4 per 100,000 residents per year, is higher than 38 other states and virtually identical to such low-control states as Texas and Arizona.

Meanwhile, many low-control states have much higher rates of gun ownership and much lower gun homicide rates – Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, for instance.

Our restrictions are bothersome to the law-abiding but clearly do not deter those bent on homicide, a crime with far more complex psychological and sociological root causes.