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Even with strict gun laws, 2 mass shootings happened days ago in California

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Those California mass shootings happened in a state with some of the strictest gun laws in the country. Now, the CDC, which tracks gun violence, says California does have the country's seventh-lowest gun mortality rate. Let's ask Daniel Webster about the effectiveness of state gun laws. He's with the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, and he's studied gun violence for more than 30 years.

Daniel, do tough state gun laws prevent gun violence?

DANIEL WEBSTER: You know, that's a great question. We need to get very specific about what it means to have great gun laws. California is fairly comprehensive in its own regulation of firearms - one of the more regulated states. I think it is important to point out that they don't have one policy that our research has shown to be most effective in reducing all forms of gun violence - homicide, suicide, mass shootings, as well as shootings involving law enforcement - and that's licensing those who want to purchase firearms or own firearms. So I think that's an important gap.

The other thing I want to underscore - and this was noted a minute ago - just because they have a relatively low rate of overall firearm mortality in California, is that you can't draw conclusions from two, three, four shootings that occur. Sadly, in the United States, we have many shootings - many mass shootings. You need to study this in a very systematic way, which is exactly what we've done.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah, and many, I've seen, on social media question California's gun laws by pointing out to these recent mass shootings. So it's not - it's impossible to make that kind of sweeping statement.

WEBSTER: Absolutely. It's important to understand that we can't, through our news feed, determine whether a law is effective. Our news feed will not tell us how many shootings were prevented by any given law. Again, you have to systematically look at this across a long span of time and compare those rates with other states that don't have the gun laws in question.

MARTÍNEZ: Then is it possible to curb gun violence on a state or local level in absence of, say, stricter federal gun laws?

WEBSTER: Well, our research clearly shows that it is. But, undoubtedly, any state's laws are going to be less effective than would be a broader federal law. And our federal gun laws are incredibly weak - have many important gaps that are exploited by gun traffickers and others who, you know, want to use guns in a violent way.

MARTÍNEZ: Daniel, I mentioned how you've studied gun violence for more than 30 years. I'm wondering if you've ever looked at how we react to gun violence because, I got to admit, I think we're getting a little numb to it - at least some of us are.

WEBSTER: That's not a particular area of my own study, but I think definitely we have normalized, sadly, this kind of mass violence or even daily violence that occurs in our cities and communities that is very abnormal, if you look across the globe, and particularly even in countries that are more like us, with respect to high-income Western democracies.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, back in 2018, Congress authorized funds for the CDC to study the causes of gun violence. Back then, I saw you were quoted as saying that you were not very optimistic. Has your opinion changed at all since then?

WEBSTER: Optimistic about the funding?

MARTÍNEZ: Optimistic about it being something that will result in change.

WEBSTER: Oh, well, look, I think evidence is important to inform gun policy. It's not, by itself, sufficient to do the trick. I think that there are some states where there's great motivation to come up with the best solutions to reduce gun violence. And in those states, they clearly are using the research evidence, thankfully, and it's leading to lower rates of firearm mortality.

MARTÍNEZ: Daniel Webster of Johns Hopkins University. Daniel, thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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