ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
California has endured two mass shootings in three days: first 11 people were killed in Monterey Park over the weekend, and then another seven yesterday in Half Moon Bay – despite California having some of the toughest gun safety laws. in the country. Martin Kaste of NPR reports on the practical challenges the state faces in enforcing these laws.
MARTIN CUST, BYLINE: One type of challenge is legal, like the gun used in Monterey Park. This is Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna.
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ROBERT LUNA: I’m describing the weapon we found as a magazine-fed semi-automatic assault pistol, not an assault rifle, but an assault pistol with an enlarged, high-capacity magazine.
CASTE: This extended magazine – a way to fire more rounds without having to stop to reload – is illegal in California. But in practice, the police are unable to enforce the ban on possession of these magazines right now due to the ongoing lawsuit in federal court. Ari Freilich works at the Gifford Law Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence.
ERIE FREILICH: Many areas of California’s gun safety law, which have been very effective in reducing gun violence in the state as a whole, have been the subject of litigation over and over again.
KASTE: The lawsuit over the magazines is still alive because of last year’s US Supreme Court ruling in the Bruen case. The decision curbed gun control laws in New York State, setting a new standard for the entire country. The California Rifle and Pistol Association, which is suing over the magazines, has refused to speak to NPR. But in an online post, his president hailed Bruen as the start of, quote, “California’s long overdue Second Amendment reckoning,” don’t quote. And he promised more legal problems. In addition to legal battles, there is also the main problem of neighboring states.
STEVE LINDLEY: Obviously we have an open border.
CAST: Steve Lindley works for the Brady campaign to prevent gun violence, but he works in law enforcement. For nine years, he ran the California Bureau of Firearms, a bureau that sometimes sent agents out of state.
LINDLEY: We went to the Big Reno Gun Show in Reno, Nevada, and we saw people in California buying illegal firearms – let’s say assault weapons – put them in their car and drive, drive west.
CASTE: It is illegal to import prohibited firearms. But Lindley says the agents won’t necessarily stop these people once they get to California.
LINDLEY: We wouldn’t stop them in Nevada County because they weren’t going to be prosecuted or prosecuted at a much lower level. We wouldn’t stop them in Placer County for the same reason. We often wait until they get to Sacramento County and that’s when they get stopped for prosecution because we felt like they would actually do business there.
KASTE: This raises another issue for California gun laws. Local support varies greatly. In some more rural jurisdictions, prosecutors are simply less prone to being snappy about guns. There has also been criticism regarding the local police’s implementation of a state system of armed and banned persons. This is a list of over 20,000 people across the state who at some point bought guns but are no longer allowed to own them. By itself, the state cannot eliminate the backlog. The Bureau of Firearms has only 75 agents, and right now it’s not even fully staffed. California Attorney General Rob Bonta says they rely on cooperation with local police.
ROB BONTA: I’m proud to have worked with them on a collaborative effort to conduct checks on the armed and banned person system in certain areas, like the Bay Area, like Los Angeles. And we will continue in the same spirit.
CASTE: Bonta also recognizes the practical realities of trying to enforce stricter gun laws when other states are more liberal.
BONTA: Quite frankly, other states need to step up. The federal government must step up. People need to have the courage and conviction to do what we know will save lives. Data and evidence don’t lie.
CASTE: The evidence that California Democrats like Bonta point to is the state’s gun death rate, which has halved since the 1990s and is lower than the rest of the country. They also point to research showing that the state’s homicide rate is below average, though still higher than several states with laxer gun laws. And while the U.S. Supreme Court is tightening the screws on state gun restrictions, California is pushing ahead with new legislation, including a law that goes into effect this summer, that aims to make it easier for Californians to file lawsuits against firearms manufacturers. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript courtesy of NPR, Copyright NPR.