Laws and Loopholes

California: Strong Gun Laws Save Lives


New data shows that California's continued emphasis on strong gun laws translates directly to fewer people dying.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, California’s firearm mortality rate was consistently higher than in the rest of the U.S. The state responded by enacting the strongest firearm laws in the country. (See the overview of California firearm laws below.) To help evaluate the impact of California’s firearm laws, this report compares firearm mortality rates in California with those in the rest of the U.S. from 1980 through 2018 (the most recent data available).

In California and the rest of the U.S., firearm mortality rates peaked in 1993. Then, as California’s strong firearm laws took effect, the state’s firearm mortality rate began a steep decline. From 1993 to 2018, California’s firearm mortality rate decreased 57 percent—almost four times the decline in the rest of the nation. By 2018, the firearm mortality rate in California was substantially lower than the rate in the rest of the country and the difference continues to grow.

In 2018, there were nearly 40,000 firearm deaths in the entire U.S., of which 3,040 were in California. The California firearm deaths were eight percent of the total, although California has twelve percent of the U.S. population. In 2018, if the firearm mortality rate in the rest of the U.S. were as low as in California, about 14,500 firearm deaths would have been prevented in that year alone.

The report’s authors are Griffin Dix, Ph. D., Oakland/Alameda County Chapter, and Loren Lieb, M.P.H., San Fernando Valley Chapter. Griffin Dix taught Cultural Anthropology at Santa Clara University, was Research Director at MacWEEK and founded a computer industry research business. After his son was shot and killed in 1994, he represented the national Million Mom March chapters on Brady's Board of Directors.

Loren Lieb, M.P.H. retired after a career as an epidemiologist with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Her son was injured in 1999 when a white supremacist attacked children and teachers at the Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, California.