Can gun safety laws make an impact on the frequency of mass shootings?

The tragedy in Monterey Park was the second mass shooting in California in just under a week. To discuss the laws in that state and the challenges of stopping shootings given the wide availability of guns, Geoff Bennett spoke with Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law where he focuses on constitutional law and gun policy.

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  • Geoff Bennett:

    This is the second mass shooting in California in just under a week.

    Let's focus now on the gun laws in that state and the challenges of stopping shootings, given the wide availability of guns.

    I spoke earlier today with Adam Winkler, a professor at the UCLA School of Law, where he focuses on constitutional law and gun policy.

    Adam Winkler, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Adam Winkler, UCLA School of Law: Thank you for having me.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    California has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country. Studies show that those laws are effective, but they are apparently not enough in a country where gun ownership is considered a constitutional right.

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, it is true that California's gun laws do work. We have the lowest firearms mortality rate in the nation in California, far lower than the national average.

    However, we should recognize that California has restrictive gun laws only compared to other American states. Compared to the Western industrialized world, for instance, California has some of the loosest and most permissive laws in the world.

    So, California's gun laws do try to reduce gun violence, but it's still very easy for pretty much anyone to get their hands on a firearm in California.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    What are some of the biggest concerns about those gun safety laws, especially when you consider that the Supreme Court has made it harder to defend gun safety laws against a Second Amendment challenge?

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, I think one of the things that's most concerning for California lawmakers is whether the gun laws they pass, either today or the ones they passed in the past, are actually going to be constitutionally permissible.

    The Supreme Court this past June strengthened Second Amendment protections, has made it much harder for states to defend gun laws. And many of California's most aggressive efforts to regulate guns and provide for gun safety reform are likely to be called into question in the courts in the coming years.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    In this California case, the gunman was identified as a 72-year-old man, making him an outlier in terms of age.

    How does that change our understanding of the threat?

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, I think it highlights the exceptional nature of this particular case.

    Gun violence is traditionally a young man's game. And I use both young and man very purposefully, because it's usually men and it's usually young men who engage in gun violence. Part of the brain is not really fully developed until about the age of 30. And it's hard for younger men to necessarily control their impulses and engage in the kinds of cost/benefit analysis that violence usually discourages.

    But when we have a society that has decided to become heavily armed, like American society, even in California, it provides anyone of any age with the means to do incredible violence to other people.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Let's talk more about that because authorities right now are working to learn more about the shooter's motive as they piece together a full picture of what transpired.

    But I know you believe that, when it comes to mass shootings, the means matter sometimes more than the motive. Tell me more about that.

  • Adam Winkler:

    Well, it's always going to be difficult to control people's motives.

    We don't know what the motive was in this particular case. I have seen rumors that there was a domestic dispute involved. We can't stop people from getting angry. What we can do is make it a little bit harder for that person to get their hands on a firearm while they're in that passionate state.

    Universal background checks, waiting periods are the kinds of things that can help. But we need not just to think about regulating guns, but also efforts to enforce the current gun laws that we have by having community intervention programs to identify those who are most likely to commit violence and try to intercede with those — with those people and stop them from doing so.

    There's a lot we can do. But we can't stop everybody from having access to weapons, and we can't stop every bad motive from resulting in gun violence.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Is this best accomplished at a state level at this point, do you think?

  • Adam Winkler:

    California has tried mightily in recent years to reduce gun violence, and with some success.

    However, it's very difficult for a gun law to be effective when a resident of California can go to Arizona or Nevada and purchase the exact weapon that is outlawed in the state of California. Guns easily cross state lines. And, really, the only way to have effective American gun safety reform is to do it at the federal level.

    Unfortunately, American politics don't seem to be particularly ripe for such reform.

  • Geoff Bennett:

    Adam Winkler is a professor at UCLA School of Law.

    Thanks for your time and for your insights.

  • Adam Winkler:

    Thank you.

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