Tough gun laws could not prevent Oakland tragedy
SACRAMENTO — California's gun laws are the toughest of any state in the nation, but they could not prevent this week's Oakland shooting that left seven people dead.
And short of banning semi-automatic weapons, it's unlikely that any new laws could prevent someone from going on a shooting spree with the weapon that One L. Goh allegedly used to kill students at Oikos University. Even some of the most ardent gun-control advocates believe that's the case.
"It wasn't a failure of laws," said Amanda Wilcox, who along with her husband, Nick, lobbies for the California chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "I just don't see how our gun laws could have stopped something like that."
Police say that Goh, a 43-year-old South Korean immigrant, used a legally purchased .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Police believe that the gunman had four fully loaded magazines, each with eight rounds of ammunition. The maximum allowed under California's assault-weapons ban is 10 rounds.
In addition to the seven people Goh shot and killed, three others were injured, and several people were shot multiple times. Because he got off more than eight shots, police are presuming Goh re-loaded the gun.
Authorities reportedly have copies of the receipt for the gun Goh purchased at a Castro Valley gun shop, but they have not divulged details other than to say what caliber gun it was and that it was a semi-automatic.
Goh has not told police where he discarded the gun, but authorities searched the Oakland Estuary based on shoe prints found on the shoreline, which was along the route they believe he took to Alameda after fleeing the scene of the killings. He was arrested without incident at a Safeway store. Police say they have called off their search for the gun until they have a better idea where it might be.
Goh was troubled. A divorced father who lived under a mountain of debt and whose business had failed, he had difficulty keeping jobs and maintaining his studies. But Goh had no criminal past, no history of being hospitalized with a mental illness and no restraining orders based on domestic violence — three of the four classifications of people who are prohibited from buying firearms in California. (People under 18 are also prohibited from owning firearms.)
Gun-control advocates say that a climate of permissive gun laws has made the United States one of the most violent countries in the developed world. Gun-rights groups maintain that equipping citizens with appropriate weaponry can prevent tragedies such as the Oakland shooting because the "good guys" can kill gunmen at the first signs of a shooting spree.
California goes beyond federal law in requiring background checks on individuals who seek to purchase firearms at both gun shops and gun shows. It also requires a 10-day waiting period for both handguns and rifles.
Though there is no registration for gun purchases, the California Department of Justice keeps a data base of all firearm transfers and sales — all of which must go through a licensed California firearms dealer.
California has approved 45 gun-control laws since 1989, when the state became the first in the nation to ban military-style assault weapons in the aftermath of the Stockton schoolyard shooting that left five children dead and 29 others wounded. In the past two decades, deaths dropped by 50 percent, while the decline in the rest of the U.S. was 30 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"That's 1,000 lives saved in California that wouldn't have been saved if our decline was just the same as the rest of the nation's," said Griffin Dix, president of the Brady campaign's Alameda County chapter. His 15-year old son was killed in an accidental shooting by a friend.
"We've still got a long way to go to save more lives, but this state is doing well," said Dix, who lives in Kensington.
Chuck Michel, a Long Beach attorney for the National Rifle Association, disputed the numbers. "The most effective deterrent to violent crime is in place in the 40 states that issue permits to carry concealed firearms because the bad guys don't know which good guys are armed," Michel said.
The tide has turned against gun-control advocates in recent years. After the federal assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, there have been no serious legislative attempts to restore the law, which banned 19 models of assault weapons, including some semi-automatic handguns. Magazines were limited to 10 rounds.
Even limiting the number of rounds on a magazine has only so much impact. A gunman intent on killing a lot of people, weapons experts say, can do nearly as much damage with a 10-round clip. Reloading the weapon only slows the gunman down by seconds.
Congress' unwillingness to address gun laws was most apparent after the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Gunman Jared Laughner used a semi-automatic with more than a 30-round magazine, legal in Arizona and allowed after the assault-weapons ban expired.
In the wake of the Tucson shootings, national polls showed broad majorities of adults favored bans on semi-automatic guns. But even in ultra-blue states such as California, there is no movement to ban semi-automatics, which are also used in hunting.