California must keep fighting for gun control

Gun News

These are discouraging times for Californians who advocate for gun control laws.

Nine days after San Jose endured the worst mass shooting in Bay Area history, federal Judge Roger T. Benitez of San Diego threw out California’s 30-year-old law banning assault-style weapons.

It was bad enough that Benitez nonsensically likened an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife. But the knowledge that his ruling could ultimately be decided by the conservative U.S. Supreme Court was maddening.

Attorney General Rob Bonta should appeal the ruling to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. And Californians should redouble their efforts to adopt reasonable gun control laws in the state and nation.

They can start by advocating for a resumption of gun violence research, which was effectively banned at the federal level in 1996 when Georgia Rep Jay Dickey, backed by the National Rifle Association, passed legislation forbidding the Centers for Disease Control from spending funds to “advocate or promote gun control.”

The CDC saw it as a direct threat to its funding, so it stopped gun research altogether. Without scientific research to discover the facts about gun violence, it’s difficult to build arguments about the harm it causes.

Gun control advocates should also remind lawmakers that Benitez’s thinking represents that of a small percentage of Americans. Current Republican Party leaders and the National Rifle Association are out of touch with the American public when it comes to gun regulations.

A 2019 Politico/Morning Consult poll found that 55% of GOP voters favored banning assault weapons, and 54% said they would support stricter gun laws, in general. Ninety percent of Republican voters said they would back universal background checks for gun sales. Only 23% of all voters oppose an assault weapons ban.

The challenge is to translate those numbers into action.

California became the first state to pass a ban on assault weapons ban following the 1989 mass shooting at a Stockton elementary school that killed five children and wounded 30 other students and teachers. Notably, it was a Republican governor, George Deukmejian, who signed it into law, saying he hoped the legislation and other gun control bills he favored would help “save innocent lives.”

The bill made it illegal to import, manufacture, distribute, sell, lend or give away about 60 types of military-style semiautomatic rifles, shotguns and pistols.

The legislation led to Congress passing a federal ban on assault weapons in 1994, but the bill contained language allowing it to expire in 2004.

The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, an independent organization based in San Diego, estimates that gun-related deaths and injuries cost Americans more than $200 billion a year. Assault weapons account for a relatively small percentage of that figure, but it’s a fact that the worst mass shootings in the United States all involved shooters with some form of assault weapon.

Earlier this year Australia marked the 25th anniversary of worst mass shooting in which a gunman killed 35 people, causing conservative Prime Minister John Howard to push for a ban on all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns. Thousands of unlicensed firearms were surrendered by residents.

Australia has not had a mass shooting since 1996. In the United States, they occur at a rate of more than one every day, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

Judge Benitez’s ruling should serve as the impetus for Californians to redouble their efforts to fight for reasonable gun control laws.

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