Courtesy of Bob Dass via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

California has some of the most stringent gun-control laws in the country, and yet it can’t seem to get out from under the pandemic of gun violence. In the last week of September, six people were injured at a school shooting in Oakland and a fifteen year old girl was shot in San Bernardino during a confrontation with law enforcement. Meanwhile, last April the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions released a report which states there was a 41% increase in gun homicides from 2019 to 2020. In response to clearly founded concerns regarding gun violence, California is implementing an anti-gun violence office. This office would work on finding ways to prevent gun theft and ownership by dangerous individuals. Focusing on these facets of the problem is the tried approach and the results are somewhat lackluster. None of the aims of this office actually address the causes of gun violence, but rather take a more traditional approach to gun control.

Keeping guns away from individuals who pose a danger to themselves and others is a worthy cause Americans should care about. However, it is in no way the whole picture or the whole solution. The whole picture includes a clear correlation between socioeconomic status and crime. It includes a failure to prioritize mental health and to meaningfully address poverty. It does not go unnoticed that similar offices in Colorado, New Orleans and D.C. have also failed to make meaningful headway in preventing gun violence.

The aims of this office must shift to include concerns about mental health, addiction, homelessness, poverty and a host of root causes for violence in addition to their current goals. Legally purchased guns are still used to commit crimes and engage in violent acts. In fact, a legally purchased .45-caliber pistol was used in the Thousand Oaks shooting in 2018 that took 12 lives. The marine veteran who was responsible for the shooting was described as “acting irrationally” before later committing suicide.

Methods such as managing training for gun owners can prevent some forms of gun violence, but that too does not include monitoring the source of this issue. Taking a hard look at funding for welfare, solving the homelessness crisis and expanding access to mental health and rehabilitation programs needs to be the main priority of this office. Somehow, California has managed to create an anti-gun violence office that does nothing to address actually ending gun violence.

Lawmakers don’t grasp what the problem is, and so they don’t have a grasp on the solution either. Trying to prevent guns from falling into the hands of bad actors is a national necessity, but it is a band aid that fails to keep this wound from gushing blood. The actual solution is far more complicated and nuanced than the intent of this office encompasses. If lawmakers want this office to be effective, it needs to be given more latitude to focus on not just the weapons, but people too.