At the Liberal Gun Club, we have argued for years that we need evidence-based policy at all levels of government. Sadly, so much of the current demands for laws are based on fear and whipping up the base of one side or the other. California’s gun laws are a prime example of this. Many of them make little or no sense, most are racist as applied, and a few are even are harmful in application (for example, one law makes it nearly impossible for a family member to legally remove certain firearms from the home of someone in the midst of a mental crisis.) Now, a new study has found that one of the laws which faces little practical opposition has done nothing to reduce suicide or make California residents safer.
A new study published in the Annals of Epidemiology in October has found that neither background checks nor violent misdemeanor restrictions have made a difference in the homicide rate or suicide rate in California. While the study hypothesizes various reasons for these lack of changes, it provides no data with which to support them. The article also fails to note that California’s background check is universal – it is required for all transfers in the state, including from a private seller to a private buyer (the type of transaction often referred to inaccurately in the media as a “gun show loophole.” ) It also requires a 10-day waiting period between when the background check paperwork is filled out and when the buyer can actually take possession of the gun. This is one of the longest waiting periods in the United States and has been touted as necessary to reduce both suicides and violence. That it seems to do neither is glossed over.
Studies like this show the need for more, unbiased research into what the root causes of violence and suicide are, and ways to prevent them since the panaceas of popular gun-based restrictions have been shown not to work. We should ask for research to see whether the hypotheses set forth have any evidential basis. For example, it is hard to see how a permit to purchase would reduce suicides if the 10-day waiting period does not. We should demand that before any right, including those granted under the Second Amendment, is restricted, that the government have some rational, evidence based reason for doing so. When laws such as these are shown to fail that standard, we should demand they be withdrawn. We should also welcome research that might in fact help find the root causes of these issues and actually make a difference.