California is considered to have some of the strictest gun control laws in the country with approximately 950 firearm laws currently in effect. Supporters of stricter gun laws argue that these laws are necessary to curb crime and enhance safety, while critics of gun control argue that the laws infringe upon the Constitutional right to bear arms afforded to all citizens by the Second Amendment, and that safety is reduced because citizens are less able to use firearms to protect themselves. Because there are very few federal firearms laws, individual states have been left to regulate the sale, possession, and use of firearms and ammunition. As a result, state laws vary significantly from state-to-state.
In 2012 alone, no fewer than six bills have been introduced in California that address existing gun laws or create new gun laws. These bills include:
- Senate Bill 610 – Concealed Handgun Permit Application (in effect since January 2012)
- Senate Bill 819 – Transfer of Background Check Fees (in effect since January 2012)
- Assembly Bill 144 – Unloaded Handgun Open Carry Ban (in effect since January 2012)
- Assembly Bill 809 – Long Gun Registration Law (effective in 2014)
- Assembly Bill 1527 – Long Gun Open Carry Ban (pending)
- Senate Bill 427 – Ammunition Registration (vetoed)
Senate Bill 610 states that Gun owners are not required to obtain liability insurance before getting a permit to carry a concealed weapon. The law also standardizes the application process and does not require an applicant to pay for training courses prior to obtaining a permit. This was the only recent legislation that was applauded by groups who urge less restrictive gun laws.
Senate Bill 819 allows the Department of Justice to access the Dealer Record of Sales (DROS) funds in order to pay for the enforcement of certain gun possession laws. Originally, DROS funds were used only to pay for the administrative costs of obtaining background checks. Critics of this law argue that there will be insufficient DROS funds to fund enforcement.
Gun control advocates supported both Assembly Bill 144 and 809. AB 144 prohibits a person from openly carrying an unloaded handgun in most public places; and is already effective; and AB 809 will become effective on January 1, 2014, and requires the registration of all newly purchased rifles and shotguns. Currently, there is no state law that requires registration of rifles or shotguns, and only new residents of California are required to register handguns within 60 days. Failure to register a handgun is a misdemeanor; however, law enforcement typically will not charge gun owners who comply with the registration law after the 60 days.
In the wake of the recent gun crimes in Arizona and Colorado, Assembly Bill 1527 was recently passed in California and is now awaiting the governor to approve or veto. The bill would prohibit the open carry of long guns, which includes rifles and shotguns. Critics of AB 1527 argue that this is unconstitutional, while supporters argue that this is merely a necessary expansion of AB 144, which now outlaws the carry of open unloaded handguns. Supporters argue that the sight of rifles and shotguns can be frightening and should be prohibited in most public places.
Governor Jerry Brown, who is a gun-owner, vetoed Senate Bill 427, which would have allowed police to collect sales records from ammunition retailers, required retailers to notify the police if they intended to sell ammunition; and prohibited the online and mail order purchase of certain calibers of ammunition. Critics of SB 427 argued that many of the calibers of ammunition that were identified in the law are popular among hunters, and would have an impact on sales.
In general, groups that advocate for gun laws argue that strict gun laws help reduce violence, particularly domestic violence. Advocates point out that states with strict gun laws have lower incidences of suicides and crimes of passion that result in homicide. In 2010, 8,775 out of almost 13,000 murders were committed with firearms. Opponents of gun laws, however, argue that the right to bear arms must not be infringed upon, and that law abiding citizens do not need restrictions; while non law-abiding gun owners will not be deterred from criminal activity regardless of gun laws. A 2010 survey estimates that approximately 300 million firearms are owned by civilians in the United States, which is 50% of all guns in the world. It is estimated that there are 88 guns per 100 U.S. residents, the highest per capita in the world. In comparison, the second highest gun ownership per capital is Serbia, with 58 guns per 100 residents.
The debate regarding gun control extends beyond California and the United States. The United Nations has tried to create an international treaty to regulate global arms trades, which is estimated at $60 billion every year. The treaty would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of firearms and to regulate firearms brokers. It would also require countries to determine whether exported weapons would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws, or be used by terrorists or organized crime. Presently, there are 192 member States of the United Nations.