Los Angeles resident Renee Rodriguez grew up around guns. Rodriguez said that as a boy, he would see his father carry a revolver in his holster, and from an early age he hoped to one day to purchase his own firearm.
“After you turn 21, you get that feeling like when you wanna be a gun owner,” Rodriguez said.
Spurred by recent events, Rodriguez decided it was time to become a gun owner. Rodriguez went to EuroArms, an Alhambra gun store owned by Wai Ho, a Chinese immigrant. Although Rodriguez doesn’t own a firearm yet, he said that he was determined to buy one before new gun laws, such as a proposed bullet database or enhanced prohibitions on who can own guns, take effect.
Ho said that AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles have become one of the most popular guns at his store. He said that because of the increased scrutiny on them, many customers want to purchase one before California’s gun laws become even stricter. Other customers, like Rodriguez, want to buy parts for a rifle, so they can build their own.
California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the country. Sales are tightly regulated, with buyers allowed only one firearm every 30 days, with all sales and transfers registered. Semi-automatic rifles must comply with a list of regulations, including no pistol grips or flash hiders, no collapsible stocks and a 10 round limit to magazines, to be legal in California.
New regulations proposed in Sacramento would make it even more difficult to acquire a gun. Two laws proposed by Assemblyman Evan Low (D – Campbell) would strip ownership rights from anyone taken into custody by authorities twice in a five-year period over mental health concerns, and explore the creation of a ballistic database of guns sold in California. Assemblyman David Chiu (D – San Francisco) proposed expanding the definition of banned “assault weapons” to include semi-automatic rifles currently legal under California law.
But Ho argued that the real problem behind gun violence aren’t guns themselves. Rather, Ho said that most people have a “naive” view of weapons, treating them like toys and leaving them unsecured, even after complying with the laundry list of regulations needed to buy a gun.
Ho used the example of a couple who walked into his store several years ago to illustrate his point. The wife, who was looking at a Glock 19 handgun, turned to the husband and pretended to shoot him in the stomach. If the gun had been loaded, Ho says, that man could have died. He refused to sell them any weapon, but fears that irresponsible gun owners could cause tragedies nonetheless.
“They don’t know how serious this is,” Ho said, referring to gun safety.
Public awareness needed
Public education is one way to solve that problem, according to University of Southern California Professor of Behavioral Health Ron Avi Astor.
Combined with the sheer number of weapons in the United States, and how easy they are to purchase, ignorance around weapons has caused a public health crisis, Astor said. He pointed to training and testing necessary for a driver’s license as a potential starting point. The current California Firearm Safety Certificate requires only a written test. There are a few exemptions to the test requirement, and the certificate is only needed to acquire a firearm, not own one.
“There is no logical reason in the world that it takes longer to get a driver’s license than a gun,” Astor said.
Public education programs, like those launched in response to smoking and HIV infections, can work to prevent gun injuries, Astor said. Only then, Astor said, and only after expanding background and mental health checks before all gun sales, would it make sense to discuss far-reaching weapons bans.
“I think we can still have a Second Amendment,” Astor said. “But what’s the point of having a machine gun, or an AR-15, except to kill people?”
Gun safety instructor Gracie Lee agrees. She has worked with video game developers and foreign dignitaries to educate them on proper gun safety, and said that most people will only ever need a handgun, like the popular Glock 19 model, to defend themselves. Semi-automatic rifles are not ideal for home defense, Lee said, and high-capacity magazines are “overkill.”
“Just imagine someone very strong breaking into an old lady’s house,” Lee said. “With a handgun, they can protect themselves. “We don’t need automatic weapons, nor high-capacity magazines. That’s for the battlefield.”
However, Lee said that with the power of lobbying groups behind an administration favorable to gun owners, she doesn’t believe new gun laws will stem gun violence. In fact, far-reaching bans might make things worse, she said.
“Bad people will still get guns,” Lee said. “If by that point, the good people have nothing to protect themselves, and bad people have all the weapons, things will be much more dangerous.”
Lee said she supports expanded background and mental health checks, and said that law enforcement should more closely monitor social media for signs of danger. In particular, she said she was baffled by President Donald Trump revoking Obama-era background checks for people with mental illnesses
Restrictions can work
Astor isn’t sure that increased gun restrictions create increased dangers.
“People can make statements like we’re in the Wild West, but I like to see the facts,” Astor said. “And the data shows that where there are a lot of guns, especially assault rifles, there are more gun-related injuries. It’s very straightforward.”
Other countries have proved it, Astor said. In April 1996, gunman Martin Bryant killed 35 people at an Australian tourist attraction, using an AR-15 and an L1A1 battle rifle. Sweeping gun law reforms followed. Australia passed the National Firearms Agreement just 12 days after the massacre, establishing a national gun registry, a national gun buyback program and new licensing regulations.
Gun-related injuries and deaths were later found to have declined by 47 percent, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, from 1991 and 2001. The number of stolen firearms also fell from 4,195 per year in the period from 1994 to 2000, to 1,526 in 2006 through 2007.
Astor said that results like these speak for themselves.
“There’s no question the data says that the more guns you have the more people that will be killed or injured, intentionally or unintentionally.”
But Ho has his doubts.
“You can’t stop someone from killing if they are truly determined,” Ho said.