Terry McAteer: Reagan began California’s love for gun control legislation | TheUnion.com
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Terry McAteer: Reagan began California’s love for gun control legislation

Terry McAteer
Columnist

When 30 members of the Black Panther Party rolled into the State Capitol in Sacramento in May of 1967 carrying loaded handguns, shotguns, and rifles, Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan was quick to respond.

The Panthers said they were carrying the loaded guns to patrol the cops on the street. Reagan and the legislature had no stomach for gun-toting citizens. AB 1591, authored by Republican Assemblyman Don Mulford, quickly garnered passage in both houses and was signed into law by Reagan in June of 1967.

The Mulford Act banned the “open carry” of loaded firearms throughout cities and towns of California. As Reagan noted, “There is no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying a loaded weapon.”

From then until now, California has passed 109 laws associated with restrictions on guns. As in most things, California again leads the nation in this category. In fact, California is the only state in the nation to receive an “A” rating from the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

As Reagan noted, “There is no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying a loaded weapon.”

These restrictions on gun usage, access and ownership however have not stopped Californians from owning guns. Recent statistics published by the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center show that 4.2 million adults (about 15% of all adult Californians) own a gun. They also point out that 73% of all guns are owned by men, 64% are owned by whites and 43% of owners are over the age of 60.

According to the research, 10% of gun owners in the state have 10 or more guns. This helps to explain how there are nearly 20 million registered guns in the state.

Despite all of the guns in this state, the strict gun control laws seem to be having a positive effect. The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which measures death by firearms, shows that California has the seventh-lowest rate of death by firearms of all the 50 states. Other low death rates states with gun restrictions include New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Rhode Island. At the opposite end of the spectrum, states with the highest death rates by firearms are Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Alaska, Montana and Wyoming.

Recently, the shooting at Saugus High School which killed two students and wounded three others, exposed another serious issue facing the state: ghost guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that 30% of all guns used in crimes nationwide are so-called “ghost guns” which have no serial number and, therefore, cannot be traced.

Because of California’s highly regulated laws placing restrictions on ownership, arms traffickers have identified the state as a lucrative market for these ghost guns, which can be constructed from a variety of parts suppliers in other states and then trafficked into California to reap huge profits.

The Saugus High School shooter, who was under 21 (the required legal age to buy a gun in this state) and didn’t need to wait the required 10 days or pass an exam; he purchased a ghost gun.

Laws often take time to react to changing circumstances. The ghost gun issue will again be addressed by our legislature — another Band-Aid approach. Until we have a national consensus on guns, our less-regulated neighboring states, Nevada and Arizona, might well continue to be a ready supplier of cheap and easily accessible — legal or illegal — firearms for Californians.

Note: Thanks to CalMatters for providing data for the story.

Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at editboard@theunion.com.


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