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FACT CHECK: Would Stricter National Gun Laws Have Stopped California’s Mass Shootings?

Claim: Stricter national gun laws would have prevented a string of mass shootings in California.

Who said it: Gov. Gavin Newsom (D., Calif.), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), the Washington Post.

Why it matters: California has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation and leaders who like to export their policies to the rest of the country. Newsom and congressional Democrats have spent the past week arguing that state laws won’t deter mass shooters unless the federal government steps up with its own restrictions.

Context: Americans are rattled by three consecutive mass shootings that killed 18 people in California over the course of three days in January. The first shooter used an illegal assault rifle featuring a prohibited silencer and 30-round magazine. The second shooter’s gun was registered legally but also had a 30-round magazine that is barred in California. Police have not identified the weapon used in the third shooting, but they believe it was likely the result of a gang fight.

Analysis: There is no evidence that stricter national gun laws would have prevented these shootings. All three either involved already-banned weapons, or were the result of gang-related criminal activity. A Department of Justice study from 2016 found that 43 percent of criminals bought their guns through the black market, compared with the 10 percent who went to retailers.

Experts with the Rockefeller Institute of Government recently acknowledged that data show most gun laws, including assault-rifle bans, don’t prevent mass shootings. Just look at California. Newsom often credits the state’s many gun restrictions for reducing the gun death rate to 37 percent below the national average. Yet violent crime and murders are still prevalent. The state records higher violent crime than the national average, while gun-related homicides surged by 52 percent from 2019 to 2021.

This is not to say that all gun laws are pointless. They keep lethal weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally disturbed. Safety measures prevent accidents and harm to children. But they cannot stop bad people from doing bad things.

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