Courtesy of Michael Tefft via Flickr under CC BY-ND 2.0

California has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States. Motivated over the years by incidents across the country, California has worked to clamp down on guns in an attempt to ensure that no tragedies occur. However, one of these gun laws written over 20 years ago operates on the simple statement that “dangerous people should not own guns,” but in today’s world, it is failing to fulfill this promise. The law compiled a database of people who owned guns who were now considered too dangerous to own them. However, this has been almost impossible to enforce since it was written. Though this law was once considered groundbreaking, it needs to be fixed in order for it to work the way it’s meant to, and possibly shift how we look at guns overall.

While this gun law seems like a basic, obvious goal that anyone regardless of political stance could potentially agree with, the fact is that it’s so nebulous that it’s no wonder it hasn’t been able to be enforced. Defining a “dangerous person” is in and of itself a difficult task. Operating off a legal basis, it would seem obvious that convicted sex offenders, criminals and those on parole should not have access to firearms, but the fact is that this very system is hard to enforce anyway. Criminals all over California still have firearms in excess, and just because someone hands some firearms over doesn’t mean that they aren’t concealing others in the home. 

It’s for this same unfortunate reason that America could never really do a full-out buyback of guns from everyone who is currently in possession of one. Police would need a warrant to thoroughly search every single house, which requires a judge and plenty of legal work anyway. Though this gun law has resulted in a database of those deemed “dangerous” and the firearms they may possess, we can never know for certain if a dangerous person does or doesn’t have more guns on hand. Not to mention that guns can still be obtained illegally, because those who intend to do harm will find any way to do so.

Though a law like this seems like it could do wonders in the face of American gun violence, gun laws do nothing if they aren’t enforced. Indeed, the very basis that there are military-grade firearms for sale that can be stockpiled by anyone is a problem in and of itself. There’s no clear caliber by which to confirm that a person is “too dangerous,” and to simply say that only criminals should only be banned from buying guns fails to mention that most mass shootings are perpetrated by those who have no criminal record, thereby making traditional background checks essentially useless. Though in theory this law is great, what should be focused on instead is how to ensure these guns don’t end up being weaseled away by people who might want to cause harm.

The debate surrounding background checks for guns is something that could be argued over for ages. But there might just be a compromise. Many people use guns recreationally, such as for hunting or for keeping their property safe if they live in a rural area. If gun laws are tightened so that people don’t have 50 AK-47s in their home and instead have a couple of hunting rifles for recreation or actual protection, then we could see a potential decrease in mass shootings. Though shootings can still happen, removing military-grade weapons from the civilian market and ensuring that the only guns that can be purchased are for the intended purpose of the gun, it could prevent damages as we know them and if nothing else, keep “dangerous people” from getting their hands on more guns.

No one likes to talk about gun laws and gun control in the United States. It’s a sticky topic that is nuanced in a way that most people don’t care to admit. Gun issues in the United States are not as black and white as we would like them to be, and an all-out gun ban would be impossible, from the fact that it would be impossible to enforce to the potential to start an all-out civil war. It is fine to be concerned about the right to protect oneself, but the founders of the United States did not know that people armed with assault rifles would be killing innocent people in schools, grocery stores and public plazas 200 years after the Second Amendment was written. It is hard to reach across the aisle on this issue, but one thing is true: no one needs to stockpile assault rifles, and anyone with a gun in any circumstance has the potential to be dangerous at any time.

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