Despite strict gun laws California has 1 million assault weapons, researchers say

Despite some of the strictest gun laws in the country, California has had 35 mass shootings this year alone according to the crowdsourced website

The site considers a mass shooting as an incident where four or more people are shot in a single shooting spree even though no one is killed. 

        2019 Mass Shootings in California

California’s latest mass shooting occurred on July 28, when a 19-year-old man purchased an assault-style rifle in Nevada and returned to Gilroy to open fire at last month’s garlic festival killing. Three people, including a 6-year-old boy, were killed and more than a dozen more were injured.  

Due to his age alone, the gunman would not have been able to purchase that weapon legally in California. Even though he grew up in Gilroy, police said he had an apartment in Nevada, which made him a Nevada resident. Nevada residents 18 and over are legally able to buy a rifle, including an assault-style weapon. Similar gun laws exist in Arizona. In contrast, California is one of the few states to impose an assault weapons ban. A California gun buyer also must be 21 and over to purchase any firearm. 

Researchers with the UC Davis Violence Prevention Research Program estimate there are roughly 20 million guns, 4.2 million gun owners and one million assault-style weapons in California. California gun owners make up about 14 percent of the adult population, and the most popular firearm in the state is the handgun, according to their data. 

There is no accurate count of how many guns come in and out of California. However, for an idea, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) traced tens of thousands of California guns in 2017 and found less than 10 percent of them came from Arizona or Nevada. By far, most of the gun were purchased in California. 

There is also an entire world of so-called “ghost guns” that are impossible to track. These untraceable firearms are made with unfinished parts, which can be bought and sold illegally. People are able to buy unfinished gun parts, like a receiver, without background checks or any sales records. The ATF estimates there are thousands of ghost guns in the United States, but the exact number is not known. 

Even though California is known for its strict gun laws, UC Davis researcher Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz said many California gun buyers purchasing traceable firearms still find loopholes.

“In our survey, out of our respondents, about one in five or about 17 percent did not undergo a background check when they bought their firearm,” she said.

Kravitz-Wirtz said this is particularly true when a family member gives away a firearm or a gun is sold illegally.

“There’s still work that needs to be done,” she said. “There are folks who are falling through the cracks.”  

What does it take to buy a gun in CA?

“First off, you need a California driver’s license. Then you have to have a firearm safety card,” said Travis Morgan, the owner of Guns, Fishing & Other Stuff in Dublin. 

To purchase any firearm or ammunition in California, a customer must be a state resident who is 21 and over, although there are some exemptions. Additionally, the buyer cannot be convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors and firearm offenses. The would-be gun owner also cannot be addicted to narcotics or be the subject of a domestic violence restraining order. (For a full list of California gun buyer ineligibilities, click here.)   

Gun buyers can get the firearm safety card Morgan referred to by passing a 30-question test at a state-certified facility, which is usually at a gun store. The certification is good for five years. 

“It’s really common sense questions,” Morgan said. “I got one person who failed it and he got mad because he failed it.”

A look at the state’s study guide shows the test includes questions like, “which way should you point your firearm?” and “is it important to teach your children guns are not toys?”

After the certification is acquired and the person’s residency and age are confirmed, the person can start picking out a gun. Once a selection is made, the seller registers the gun and submits the buyer’s basic profile to California’s Department of Justice to conduct a background check. The result of that background check is either pass, denied, undetermined or delayed. 

If passed, California has a mandatory 10-day waiting period before the buyer can retrieve his or her purchased firearm. Surrounding states like Nevada and Arizona do not have imposed wait times. 

While a buyer must be 21 and over to buy a rifle in the Golden State, Nevada and Arizona require their local residents to be 18 and over. Those two states also do not have an assault weapon ban, while California does. However, as seen in the Gilroy shooting incident, it is easy for gun owners to driver over state lines and into different jurisdictions.