A Comparison of Firearm Mortality In California and the Rest of the Nation

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1 A Comparison of Firearm Mortality In California and the Rest of the Nation Griffin Dix February 16, 2015 This fact sheet compares firearm mortality rates in California and the rest of the nation (i.e. the U.S. population excluding California) using the most recent Centers for Disease Control data. The first section examines the changes from 2012 to 2013; the next section takes a longer historical view. I vs In 2013, California s firearm mortality 1 rate declined slightly to 7.5 per 100,000, while the rate in the rest of the U.S. remained as it had been in 2012 (at 10.7). Thus the difference between California and the rest of the U.S. increased. A total of 2,929 Californians died by firearms in Gun suicides increased from 1,549 the previous year to 1,571 in 2013, accounting for 53.6% of the gun deaths (excluding legal interventions). The number of gun homicides declined from 1,362 to 1,312 (44.8%). In 2013, California s rate of firearm homicide declined slightly to 3.4 and its firearm suicide rate remained at 4.0. Both rates were still below rates in the rest of the U.S. Number Rate Rate California Change Firearm mortality 2,956 2, Firearm homicide 1,362 1, Firearm suicide 1,549 1, Unintentional II. California vs. the Rest of the Nation Since the Stockton schoolyard shooting in 1989 activists in California have helped pass more than fifty laws regulating firearms. As these laws took effect, the state s firearm mortality rate declined by almost twice as much as in the rest of the U.S. where most of these regulations were absent. 2 Many of California s laws were intended to reduce gun homicides and gun crimes by denying felons and other prohibited persons access to firearms. But many laws have multiple purposes and were also designed to prevent gun suicides. These included safe storage laws, waiting periods, and background checks to deny guns to those deemed a danger to themselves or others, or to those under restraining orders. Some laws set safety standards for firearms sold in the state. A brief overview of California s firearm laws is at the end of this document. If the rest of the U.S. could reduce its firearm mortality rate to California s rate, in 2013 over 8,800 Americans would have lived instead of dying by gunfire. 3 1 Excludes legal intervention by law enforcement. 2 Some have argued that California s Three Strikes law was responsible for the decline. However, The great weight of empirical studies discounts the role of three strikes in reducing crime, states a 2004 report signed by six criminal-law professors, including Franklin Zimring at U.C. Berkeley. (NY Times Magazine, Arguing Three Strikes, May 21, Also see: Punishment and democracy: three strikes and you re out in California, Franklin E. Zimring, Gordon Hawkins and Sam Kamin, Oxford U. Press, 2001.) 3 The difference between the California rate (7.5) and the rate in the rest of the U.S. (10.7) is 3.2. Using CDC population estimates, the 2013 U.S. population excluding California was 277,796,318. (277,796,318 / 100,000) * 3.2 =

2 Age adjusted rate per 100,000 Change in Firearm Mortality California vs. the Rest of the U.S. California s firearm mortality rate was higher than in the rest of the country throughout the 1980s and early 1990s. It began to fall in 1994 and dropped below the rate in the rest of the U.S. in All firearm deaths in California and the rest of the US, (legal intervention excluded) California Rest of US Year of death Data source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics, WONDER online database. Underlying cause of death used to select firearm deaths. Rates were calculated using Census population estimates adjusted to the 2000 and 2010 US population. After a pause between 2000 and 2005, California s firearm mortality rate continued declining from 2006 until Since then the rate has been relatively stable at 7.5 or 7.6. In the rest of the U.S., the decline in the firearm mortality rate stalled in 2000, and since 2010 has increased slightly. The reason for the increase has been a rise in the firearm suicide rate. The firearm homicide rate has remained stable. Because from 2010 the firearm mortality rate in the rest of the U.S. rose slightly (from 10.3 to 10.7), the difference between California and the rest of the U.S. has continued to increase

3 Between 1990 and 2013, California reduced its firearm mortality rate by 51.6 percent, which was double the reduction made in the rest of the U.S. (25.2%). Firearm Mortality California Firearm Mortalities 4,763 2,929 Reduction in Rate Reduction Than In Rest of U.S. California Firearm Mortality Rate % 26.4 Rest of US Firearm Mortalities 32,103 30,240 Rest of US Firearm Mortality Rate % Source: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Age-adjusted rates per 100,000. Rates of change were calculated by the author. Total firearm deaths include gun homicides, gun suicides, unintentional shooting deaths, and undetermined intent. Excludes legal intervention by the police or other law-enforcing agents. Greater Decline in California s Firearm Mortality Rate Firearm Homicide and Firearm Suicide Since 1990, rates of both firearm homicide and firearm suicide have declined faster in California than in the rest of the nation. Between 1990 and 2013: California s firearm homicide rate declined by 55.3 percent 18.0 percentage points more California s firearm suicide rate declined by 45.9 percent 32.9 percentage points more - 3 -

4 Change in Rates of Firearm Homicide and Firearm Suicide California vs. the Rest of U.S Firearm Homicide California - Number 2,539 1,312 Reduction In Rate Reduction Than In Rest of U.S. California - Rate % 18.0 Rest of US - Number 13,679 9,896 Rest of US - Rate % Firearm Suicide California - Number 2,079 1,571 California - Rate % 32.9 Rest of US - Number 16,806 19,604 Rest of US - Rate % Firearm Mortality Although California s firearm mortality rate was high in 1990, it was much higher in 1993, the year in which the number and rate of firearm deaths peaked in both California and the rest of the U.S. From 1993 to 2013 California s firearm mortality rate declined by 56.6 percent 29.9 percentage points more than the decline in the rest of the nation. California s reduction (56.6%) was more than double that in the rest of the U.S. (26.7%). Change in Firearm Mortality - California vs. Rest of U.S Firearm Mortality California Firearm Mortalities 5,424 2,929 Reduction In Rate Reduction Than In Rest of U.S. California Firearm Mortality Rate % 29.9 Rest of US Firearm Mortalities 33,853 30,240 Rest of US Firearm Mortality Rate % Source: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Age-adjusted rates per 100,000. Rates of change were calculated by the author. Total firearm deaths include gun homicides, gun suicides, unintentional shooting deaths, and undetermined intent. Excludes legal intervention by the police or other lawenforcing agents. Between 1993 and 2013: Firearm Homicide and Firearm Suicide California s firearm homicide rate declined by 64.6 percent 22.4 percentage points more California s firearm suicide rate declined by 43.7 percent 34.2 percentage points more - 4 -

5 Change in Rates of Firearm Homicide and Firearm Suicide California vs. the Rest of U.S Reduction Firearm Homicide In Rate California Firearm Homicides 3,183 1,312 Reduction than in Rest of U.S. California Firearm Homicide Rate % 22.4 Rest of US Firearm Homicides 15,070 9,896 Rest of US Firearm Homicide Rate % Firearm Suicide California Firearm Suicides 2,075 1,571 California Firearm Suicide Rate % 34.2 Rest of US Firearm Suicides 16,865 19,604 Rest of US Firearm Suicide Rate % California s Rates of Firearm Homicide and Firearm Suicide Have Declined Faster than Its Rates of Non-Firearm Homicide and Non-Firearm Suicide If California s gun laws helped reduce its firearm mortality rate, you would anticipate that California s rates of homicide and suicide with a gun might decline more than the state s rates of non-firearm homicide and non-firearm suicide. In fact, between 1993 and 2013: California s firearm homicide rate declined by 64.6 percent 10.1 percentage points more than the decline in California s non-firearm homicide rate. California s firearm suicide rate declined by 43.7 percent 43.5 percentage points more than the change in its non-firearm suicide rate. Change in Firearm vs. Non-Firearm Homicide and Suicide Rates California, Change in Rate More Reduction in Firearm vs. Non-Firearm Rate California Firearm Homicide Rate % 10.1 California Non-Firearm Homicide Rate % California Firearm Suicide Rate % 43.5 California Non-Firearm Suicide Rate % Source: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Age-adjusted rates per 100,000. Rates of change were calculated by the author. Overview of California Firearm Laws - 5 -

6 Illegal Gun Possession, Gun Trafficking and Gun Crimes Background checks are required for all gun sales/transfers, including private party sales. The California Dept. of Justice (CalDOJ) maintains records of gun sales. Persons with certain mental health determinations, felons, and persons guilty of certain violent misdemeanors are prohibited from purchasing a gun. Law enforcement must provide the CalDOJ with data for tracing illegal or crime guns. Gun shows are regulated. CalDOJ maintains a record of gun shows and vendors. Handgun purchases are limited to one per month in order to reduce gun trafficking. CalDOJ checks to see if prohibited persons, such as those who have become felons, previously purchased a handgun. Guns illegally owned can be confiscated. Local law enforcement has discretion in issuing permits to carry concealed weapons. New pistol models must have microstamping, which prints identifying marks on cartridge cases. Law enforcement or immediate family members can seek a court order to temporarily prohibit a person who is a risk to himself or others from purchasing or possessing a firearm. Domestic Violence and Firearms Persons under a restraining order must relinquish firearms and may not purchase them. Police may temporarily seize guns at the scene of domestic violence incidents. Courts may prohibit firearms possession due to domestic violence, harassment or stalking. Unsafe Firearms Handguns sold must pass state safety test. CalDOJ maintains a roster of approved handguns. New pistol models must have chamber load indicators and magazine disconnect safeties. New military-style assault weapons,.50 caliber sniper rifles and large capacity magazines are banned. Gun Manufacturers and Dealers Gun manufacturers must have a state license, tight security on premises and conduct background checks on employees. All gun sales must be conducted through a federally licensed firearms dealer who conducts a background check on the buyer. Gun dealers and manufacturers who sell/ship firearms must check the receiver s federal and state firearms license with the CalDOJ to prevent illegal transfers from out of state. It is illegal to sell ammunition to persons prohibited from possessing firearms. Children, Families, and Public Safety Gun buyers must pass a written safety test and hands-on demonstration and obtain a firearm safety certificate before purchase. Proof of residency and thumbprint are required. Gun owners can be held criminally responsible for child access and misuse of their guns. Dealers must equip the firearms they sell with CalDOJ-approved child safety locks. Source: California Brady Campaign Chapters and Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. For more information see: Griffin Dix, Ph.D., was Research Director at MacWEEK and founded a research company. He served as president of the California Brady Campaign Chapters and represented the national Million Mom March chapters on the Brady Campaign Board. He is now Co-Chair of the Oakland/Alameda County Brady Campaign Chapter and lives in Kensington, California. Loren Lieb of the San Fernando Valley Brady Chapter helped compile this information and created the graph

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