Gun laws work – when they are fully implemented

By Sen. Catherine Blakespear

The news organization Cal Matters investigated the effectiveness of California’s gun safety laws in domestic violence cases a few years ago, and it found that many domestic abusers never turn in proof that they had relinquished their firearms as required by law. 

In Orange County, only one out of 25 armed abusers actually submitted proof they turned over their guns. To be clear, this problem was not unique to Orange County, but rather indicative of a systemic issue with how our laws operate.

Since then, the California state Legislature passed Senate Bill 320 (Eggman, 2021), which enhanced the court’s ability to see that their orders are actually followed and allotted an additional $40 million in state funding to ensure abusers turn over their firearms. 

The policy improvement and increased investment have led to promising results. Julia Weber, an expert on firearm relinquishment procedures, testified this week in the California Senate Public Safety Committee that over a seven-month period from July 2023 to February 2024, the Orange County Superior Court handled 77 domestic violence cases involving firearms leading to 246 relinquished guns.

Orange County’s success is the product of hard work and critical investment, but the guiding principle behind the work is relatively simple: laws are only as effective as their implementation. 

From workplace violence restraining orders to automatic firearm prohibitions after a mental health crisis, we have plenty of tools designed to prevent dangerous people from having firearms. But what good is a law if it isn’t enforced? 

California has over 23,000 people listed in its Armed and Prohibited Persons System (APPS), meaning those individuals legally purchased or acquired firearms, later became prohibited from owning or possessing them and still have the weapons. These are people who may have committed crimes or were deemed a danger to themselves, a school, workplace, or person. 

That is why I am working on two bills (Senate Bills 899 & 1002) that expand the proven concepts that have helped Orange County in domestic violence cases to other circumstances involving threats of harm. By providing people information on how to comply with the law in the courts and empowering courts and other stakeholders to follow up to ensure they do, we make sure our laws actually do what was intended. That way, we protect society from harm, but also remove guns from situations where there is an increased risk of suicide, which accounts for over half of California’s gun deaths

These aren’t the only gun laws that need more follow up. For the last few years, California has led one of the largest gun buyback programs in the country. Recently, the New York Times reported that, rather than being destroyed as promised, many of the firearms collected in gun buybacks across the country, including Riverside, are recycled and resold online as gun kits.

Last month, I introduced legislation (Senate Bill 1019) requiring complete destruction of firearms acquired through buybacks or confiscated by law enforcement – scopes, silencers, and suppressors included. That was the idea with gun buybacks, and this ensures it actually happens. 

But perhaps the strongest reason to focus on improving the implementation and effectiveness of current gun laws is to avoid the uncertainty created by the Supreme Court, which has upended many gun laws and undercut new ones across the country. 

This summer, when the court decides US v. Rahimi, we will get a clear indication of whether a fundamental aspect of maintaining a safe society – keeping guns away from people we know to be violent and dangerous – will stand. 

In the meantime, I am focused on making the state safer by improving the outcomes of our existing legal structure. Let’s make sure our current laws are working as intended. That alone can save thousands of lives. 

Catherine Blakespear represents California’s 38th state Senate District.