California’s Answer to Gun Violence Could be Model for U.S.

The U.S. currently has a crisis in public health because of gun violence.

In 2020, the most recent year that data is available, more than 45,000 people died from gun-related injuries, according to the Pew Research Center; That’s a 14% increase from the previous year, 25% increase from five years ago, and a 43% increase from a decade ago.

California’s numbers are increasing, but California shows the opposite trend. For more than 20 years—except for two years during the pandemic—the Golden State’s rate of firearm violence has consistently decreased. California has the nation’s lowest rate of firearm-related deaths. Residents of California are more likely to survive a shooting than anyone else, with 25% less deaths from mass shootings.

California’s present situation is a sharp contrast to the late 80s and early 90s when the state experienced of gun deaths. Garen J. Wintemute, an emergency room physician and firearm violence researcher at the University of California, Davis, credits California’s success in reducing firearm violations to legislation that the state has passed over the years. California has closed loopholes in private sales and stopped the production of cheap guns inside the state. It also restricts gun ownership for those who have been convicted of violent misdemeanor or serious crimes.

One of the mechanisms by which California’s laws produce their effect is [that] we have a substantially lower prevalence of firearm ownership in this state than many other states do,” Wintemute says. “There are fewer of those tools in circulation…and no surprise, they get used less.”

Study after study shows that suicides are responsible for over half the U.S. gun death rate. This is in addition to mass shootings at schools, churches and supermarkets. California recently introduced legislation that permits gun violence victims and gun manufacturer to sue them for damages.

“Violence is a very complex health and social problem. There is no easy fix… the one right thing to do is a lot of things at the same time,” Wintemute says. “So that if one intervention doesn’t stop a particular sort of case, maybe another one will. To do one thing in a complex system is to simply allow that system to adapt and continue to produce what it’s going to produce.”

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