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Do strict gun laws make for a safer society?




File: A woman handles a pistol at a gun shop.
File: A woman handles a pistol at a gun shop.
Miguel Schincariol/AFP/Getty Images

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The Sunday shooting in Las Vegas left 59 dead and hundreds more injured. Calls for stricter gun controls have only grown louder in the days since — many from California. The state's gun control laws are among the toughest in the nation, but how do we measure their success? And could California be a model for the country?

Take Two put those questions and more to Adam Winkler, professor of Constitutional law at UCLA.

Several of the gun laws developed in California in recent decades were sparked by gun violence. Walk us through some of them. 

California was the first state in the nation to ban military-style assault weapons back in 1989, just months after the killing of five children and wounding of 29 others in Stockton, California. 

After the Isla Vista shooting, in which a mentally unstable shooter killed six University of Santa Barbara students and wounded 13 others, California lawmakers authorized gun violence restraining orders, allowing the seizure of guns from people determined by the courts to be a threat to themselves or others. 

We saw months after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015 and the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, California banned the possession of high-capacity magazines and required background checks for ammunition purchases. So we see a lot of reform, especially in California after these mass shootings. 

Is it because California is more of a blue state or is there another reason behind California's ability to get that part of this done? 

It's no doubt because California is a blue state in which the NRA just doesn't have the kind of political sway that it has in so many other states. 

Since Newton, in fact, in states where the NRA is powerful — most of the southern states — we've seen a flurry of laws passed making it more permissive and making guns more accessible in the wake of Newton. 

On Wednesday, in response to the mass shooting in Las Vegas, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced a bill that would ban "bump fire stocks" nationwide. They're already illegal in California. California has been a bit of a leader in this area. Why is that?

California lawmakers are genuinely concerned in trying to figure out anything they can do to reduce gun violence. 

In many parts of the country, the attitude of lawmakers and many voters frankly is that the way to reduce gun violence is more guns. That's not the philosophy here in California. So wherever there's a space that federal law allows the state to regulate, California lawmakers have looked to close those loopholes in federal law. 

A lot of California's gun laws were put in place to prevent a repeat of similar incidents. How can you tell if they've been effective? What are the criteria?

It's very difficult. Often, people say 'well, would it have stopped the last mass shooting?' It's always hard to stop something that's happened in the past. And certainly hard to figure out whether the next incident, which may take on totally different facts, will be stopped by a gun control law. 

For instance, we had never seen a mass shooting with these bump-fire stocks. The mass shooters change and develop. If we want to figure out how to measure these gun control laws, however, we shouldn't focus on mass shootings specifically.

I think what the goal of gun control should be is to bring down the daily death toll from firearms. If we can just lower those a little bit every day, you make a huge difference in people's lives over the course of a year. 

If there turns out to be a federal movement to make gun laws stricter across the nation, can California be held up as a model for the rest of the country to follow somehow?

I think it can be in some ways for sure. California is often a leader in reforms in various areas of political and public life, and gun control may be one of those areas. 

Obviously, much of the country has been moving in the opposite direction. California hasn't been able to play that leadership role. But California's taking the initiative to ban these bump fire stocks before the federal government banned them. California has universal background checks that the federal government doesn't have. 

At the same time, California does have some laws like its over 15-year-long effort to try to restrict assault weapons that just really hasn't worked effectively and probably won't be a model for reform at the federal level.

Press the blue play button above to hear how weaker gun laws in neighboring states help criminals circumvent California's gun laws. 

Answers have been edited for clarity.