Sacramento California, May 27, 2021: Americans Against Gun Violence extends heartfelt sympathy to the families, friends, and coworkers of the of the nine people who were killed in the mass shooting at the San Jose Valley Transit Authority (VTA) maintenance facility on Wednesday, May 26. We also extend our sympathy to the members of the VTA staff who were not physically injured but who suffered severe psychological trauma as a result of being present during the shooting.
Following the mass shooting, California Governor Gavin Newsom visited the VTA facility where the shooting occurred and asked, “What the hell is wrong with us?” The Governor should know the answer to this question. Americans Against Gun Violence president, Dr. Bill Durston, spoke with him in person a few years ago, when Newsom was California's Lieutenant Governor, about the reasons why the United States is the only high income democratic country in the world in which mass shootings occur on a regular basis and why our rate of gun deaths, day in and day out, is ten times higher than the average rate in other advanced democracies; and Dr. Durston discussed with Lt. Governor Newsom the steps necessary to stop our shameful epidemic of gun violence.
The United States is the only high income democratic country in which the default for gun acquisition is that the person who seeks to acquire a gun can legally do so if the person is of a certain age and can pass a rudimentary background check, done instantaneously by computer in most cases. This guiding principle is termed, “permissive.” In all other advanced democracies, the default is that individuals cannot legally acquire a gun unless they can prove that they have a good reason to own one and can handle one safely. This guiding principle is termed, “restrictive.” And many other democratic countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, recognizing that there is no net protective value in owning or carrying a gun, do not accept “self defense” as a legitimate reason for owning one. California and the rest of the United States should adopt a “restrictive” guiding principle for gun acquisition and disallow the mistaken notion that owning a gun is necessary for “self defense” as a legitimate reason for owning one.
Background checks in other high income democratic countries like Australia, New Zealand, and the UK are done in person, not instantaneously by computer, and involve interviews with the prospective gun purchaser, with past and present domestic partners, and with coworkers, friends, and other people who have knowledge about the prospective gun purchaser’s character. Samuel J. Cassidy, who was reported by his ex-wife, coworkers, and neighbor to be mentally unstable and prone to angry outbursts, would never have been allowed to legally acquire a gun in other advanced democratic countries. California and the rest of the United States should conduct background checks in person as they are done in other democratic countries.
Other high income democratic countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, reacted swiftly and definitively to mass shootings by completely banning civilian ownership of the classes of weapons used in the shootings. Australia and New Zealand decided within less than two weeks to ban civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic long guns – not just so-called “assault weapons” – after the 1996 Port Arthur and 2019 Christchurch mass shootings, respectively; and the UK, which already had a ban on automatic and semi-automatic long guns, also banned civilian ownership of all handguns after the 1996 Dunblane Primary School mass shooting. The rates of gun deaths in Australia and New Zealand are 1/10th to 1/12th the rate in the United States, and the rate of gun deaths in the UK is 1/60th the U.S. rate. California and the rest of the United States should enact a complete ban on civilian ownership of all handguns and all automatic and semi-automatic long guns, with no “grandfather clause” for individuals who already own them.
Prior to 2008, there was no constitutional obstacle, Second Amendment or otherwise, in California or the rest of the United States to the adoption of stringent gun control laws of the type described above. In 2008, a narrow 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court created a constitutional right to keep a handgun in the home for “self defense” in the rogue Heller decision. In Heller, the five member majority joined the gun lobby in claiming that the first half of the Second Amendment, which refers to a “well regulated militia,” is irrelevant to the second half of the Amendment, which describes a “right to keep and bear arms.” The late Supreme Court Chief Justice, Warren Burger, had described such an interpretation of the Second Amendment as “one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word, ‘fraud’ – on the American public by special interest groups” that he had ever seen in his lifetime. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear another Second Amendment case, New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Corlett (NYSRPA v. Corlett), later this year. Given the current composition of the Court, it’s expected that instead of overturning the Heller decision, the Court will probably expand the right it created in Heller. The State of California and the U.S. Department of Justice should join Americans Against Gun Violence in filing an amicus brief in NYSRPA v. Corlett calling on the Court to take the opportunity of this case to overturn Heller, and President Biden should put the Court on notice that if it does not overturn Heller, he will “pack the Court” with enough additional judges to overturn Heller in the near future.
If California and the rest of the United States don’t promptly take the steps described above to stop our country’s shameful epidemic of gun violence, we shouldn’t be surprised when the next horrific mass shooting occurs
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