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February 24, 2014
Another View: Blind to the success of California's gun laws

guns.JPG(Feb. 24 - By Griffin Dix and Dallas Stout, Special to The Bee)

In Dan Walters' column "California's gun laws go too far?" (Capitol & California, Feb. 19), his main complaint is that the state has "very restrictive gun laws" and that politicians write "ever more restrictions on sale and possession of firearms and ammunition." Isn't he aware that California gun sales are booming?

Our gun laws are not designed to prevent law-abiding citizens from buying guns. We do a better job than other states of keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people, such as felons and domestic abusers. We make sure handguns meet basic safety standards, and we limit especially dangerous guns, such as .50 caliber sniper rifles and assault weapons.

Walters is misinformed when he says that California's gun laws "have not lowered its gun homicide rate below those of states with much looser laws." Just compare California with the rest of the country (i.e. the U.S. population excluding California). According to the latest 2010 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1993 (the peak gun homicide rate) California's gun laws helped cut the state's homicide rate by 64 percent. The rest of the country cut its rate 22 percentage points less - a huge gap.

Rural states, such as Texas and Arizona, don't have some of the problems faced by California, a more urban state. So it's all the more remarkable that California now has a lower gun homicide rate, a lower gun suicide rate and a lower firearm mortality rate than the rest of the country.

Firearm mortality rates - not just gun homicide - also reveal the success of California's laws. Some of our gun laws are meant to help reduce gun suicides, domestic violence murder-suicides and unintentional shootings.

California's gun laws have helped cut our firearm mortality rate by 57 percent since the peak rate of 1993. That's almost double the reduction made in the rest of the country, 29.5 percent.

Of the 10 states with the strongest gun laws, seven also are among the states with the lowest gun death rates, and California is one of those seven.

Walters seems to favor the "low-control" approach of Arizona, apparently unaware that its lax laws are killing Californians. More traced crime guns come into California from Arizona than from any other state, according to the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

States that fail to require background checks on all firearm sales subvert our strong laws by aiding the trafficking of crime guns into California. A federal universal background check law could help reduce the cross-border flow of illegal guns.

Almost 6,000 Californians are shot every year, and almost half of those die. But we are not hopeless. We can do more to prevent gun violence without infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens. A long series of court decisions has found that laws like California's are constitutional. Walters would do well to take his own advice and "approach the issue with logic and fact, rather than emotion and supposition."

Griffin Dix taught cultural anthropology at Santa Clara University and lives in Kensington. After his son was shot and killed in 1994, he became an activist with the California chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Dallas Stout has served as president of the California chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence since 2010. He lives in Orange County.