California gun laws: Striking a balance between rights and safety

Ashlin Quach

With the latest wave of mass shootings throughout the United States, including the most recent at Michigan State University that left three students dead and five students in critical condition, the conversation about gun control has erupted once again. Discussions around guns have been associated with modern society and our nation’s political debates for years. According to Axios, 66 percent of Americans believe that gun laws should be stricter, and as gun violence has increased significantly in recent years, this number continues to grow. Even though these mass shootings have been frequent and serious occurrences in the last decade, some states have made no progress on implementing stricter gun laws while in California the progress has been slow and ineffective. It is crucial that California enacts stricter gun laws to protect public safety.

Illustrations by Ashlin Quach

In 2022, there were 647 mass shootings and more than 44,000 deaths due to gun violence in the U.S., according to the Gun Violence Archive. On average, a mass shooting in California occurs every 8.3 days. For example, January shootings in Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay and Oakland, all within forty-four hours of each other, left nineteen dead. With this, guns pose a unique threat to our society; they are one of the only weapons that could cause mass injuries and deaths within seconds. As a result, many countries have made stricter gun laws. For example, countries like the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore have some of the most stringent gun laws which restrict citizens from owning guns for personal use. Since these countries have implemented these laws they have seen a tremendous decrease in gun violence; for example, in Australia the gun death rate is 0.18 per one hundred thousand people compared to the U.S.’s 4.12 per one hundred thousand. 

California has been known to have some of the strictest gun laws in America, but still, we have seen little improvement. Here, you only need to be 18 years of age to purchase a rifle or a shotgun. Meanwhile, you need to be 21 years of age to rent a car — you can purchase a deadly weapon before renting an automobile. 

There are numerous steps someone needs to go through in California to be able to purchase a weapon. Those seeking a weapon must pass a background check, not be a convicted felon, pass a firearm safety test and submit an application to obtain a firearm. Despite all these steps, guns can and still do end up in the wrong hands.

The first step that needs to be taken towards gun reform is implementation of new legislation. This could include more extensive background checks for all weapon purchases, including purchases from private sellers. According to the Giffords Law Center, more than 90 percent of the American public supports background checks for all weapon purchases yet there are still deadly loopholes in our gun laws. For example, unlicensed sellers – people who sell guns at gun shows, online or somewhere without a federal dealer license – are able to transfer firearms without having to run background checks.

Legislatures also need to increase the minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 years old to at least 21 years old. Increasing the minimum age would improve public safety, by keeping firearms out of the hands of those who aren’t yet mature enough to own a firearm. 

Finally, we need to expand our ban on assault rifles. Assault rifles are the most common weapons used in mass shootings, and although they are already banned in California, there needs to be an expansion on that ban. By expanding the definition of an assault rifle to include more firearms, it would limit the number of firearms in our state. It would put a ban on more weapons sales, transfers and possession of these dangerous weapons. 

Some people opposed to stricter gun laws may bring up that guns are used for protection and that the Second Amendment protects their rights, it states, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Some will argue that the Second Amendment guarantees their right to bear arms, but this is not all true. On several different occasions, the Supreme Court has ruled that reasonable regulations on firearms are constitutional. By making stricter gun laws like banning assault rifles, enhancing background checks and increasing the minimum age to purchase a weapon, it would not infringe on citizens’ rights to own weapons for self-defense and recreational uses, therefore these stricter gun laws would not be violating the Second Amendment, it would just make it harder for dangerous individuals to obtain these weapons.

The need for change is clear and necessary, whether it is banning more assault rifles or increasing the minimum age to purchase weapons, something needs to be changed quickly. It is time to step up and take action to prevent any future disasters.