The grotesque toll of gun violence is being discussed again in Congress. As Luis Ferré-Sadurní and I reported over the long weekend, states are not holding their breath.
In particular, this state: In ways that tend to be underreported, California has significantly reduced gun deaths, said Drs. Garen J. Wintemute, an emergency services physician and long-time firearms violence researcher, told me this week.
“For the last 20, maybe even 25 years – except for the two years of the pandemic, which have seen homicides and suicides increase across the country – our rates of firearms violence have been trending downwards,” said Drs. Wintemute, which directs the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis, Sacramento Medical Center. “And this has been at a time when most rates in the rest of the country have gone up.”
The rate of firearm deaths in California is among the lowest in the nation, with 8.5 deaths per 100,000 people by 2020, compared to 13.7 per 100,000 nationwide and 14.2 per 100,000 in Texas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. And Californians are about 25 percent less likely to die in mass shootings, compared to residents of other states, according to a recent Public Policy Institute of California analysis.
I asked Dr. Wintemute how California is different. Here is a slightly edited excerpt from our conversation, which took place on Memorial Day after its emergency room shift:
Just a few weeks ago, California had a mass shootingBy what measures is our policy a success?
You have to see it on a population basis. We may have more mass shootings in California, but we are also by far the largest state. I looked a while ago at the rates of firearms violence in the 21st century – murder and suicide combined – and the rest of the country was up, but the rates of California were so far down that the average was flat.
We always hear that nothing works, that even California’s strict gun laws are ineffective.
This is because we evaluate policies one by one, in isolation. The results for one policy may be mixed or even negative. But what California has done over a number of decades is to implement a whole bundle of policies that, in my opinion, work in synergy, with measurable effect.
It sounds like the “Swiss cheese model” public health experts have used to tackle Covid.
Yes. The idea is to prevent the gaps in the policy from filling up. But if we rank the states, the rate of firearm violence in California ranks 29th out of 50 states for homicide and 44th for suicide.
Can you share some examples?
California has done much to prevent high-risk people from buying firearms. We have broadened the criteria for keeping guns out of the hands of people who pose a danger to themselves or others due to mental illness. If you have been convicted of a violent crime in California, you may not have a gun for the next 10 years; that crime must be a crime in most states.
We require background checks, and not just from licensed retailers; In most states, purchases by private parties do not require background checks or record keeping of any kind. We have a system, which we are currently evaluating, to retrieve guns from “prohibited persons” – people who have been convicted of domestic violent crimes or who have to deal with restrictions on violence. And we maintain this policy, unlike many other states.
In the early 1990s, cheap handguns – “Saturday Night Specials” – were almost entirely made around Los Angeles. It was a few companies that make more than 800,000 cheap handguns a year. That the state set standards for design and safety. One of the companies has since moved to Nevada. The rest went up the belly and there is no more income to fill the hole.
What about holes?
Every time California sets a new standard, the gun industry tries to convince it. Unregulated ghost guns have become incredibly popular here, precisely because we are such a tightly regulated market. And the state program to repair guns from banned people has never had the level of funding needed to do all the work – there are only about 40 trained agents for the entire state and a backlog of at least 10,000 people whose guns must be taken.
Overall, what could the rest of the country learn from California?
The lower the prevalence of property, the lower the rate of firearms violence – this is one of the most robust research findings for decades. Arms ownership rates are lower here, in part because of this bundle of state measures. In the United States, about 25 percent to 30 percent of individuals generally have guns. In California, it is about 15 percent to 18 percent.
If you read one story, do it this way
In this beautiful story of the city by Tim Arango, a plan to build luxury apartments in Los Angeles threatens an oak that dates back to the 1936 Olympic Games – and that testifies to a forgotten chapter in Black history.
Where we travel
Today’s tip comes from Ann Wride, who recommends the coastal city of Cambria:
“Cambria is perfectly located between LA and San Francisco. It is located on the Pacific Ocean and is the southern gateway to the beautiful Big Sur Coast. It has beautiful terrain with a lot of Monterey pine.
It has several wineries in the city, as well as many more in the adjacent Paso Robles rolling hills.
Due to its stunning location and the nearby Hearst Castle, it is an excellent tourist destination and has many fine restaurants as a result. Weekends can be busy, but if you are lucky enough to be there during the week, count yourself blessed.
We were tourists on a magical sunny day several years ago and as such made an offer on a house and stayed.
Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected] We will share more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.
What we read
Dennis Hopper. Brooke Hayward. Viola Davis. Here are some summer books that will take us “into achievement and creativity, slipping down old lanes, performing close readings,” writes our reviewer.
And before you go, what good news
Nearly two years after a massive wildfire swept through Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains, parts of the park will reopen shortly after the Fourth of July, reports The Los Angeles Times.