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California plans to create anti-gun-violence office

Firearms on sale last year at a store in El Cajon, Calif. (Bing Guan/Bloomberg News)

An earlier version of this article said incorrectly that California was the first state in the nation to set up an Office of Gun Violence Prevention. Colorado created such an office last year. The article has been corrected.

California will set up an office dedicated to reducing gun violence by keeping firearms away from “dangerous individuals” and promoting research and data collection, state Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) said Wednesday.

Bonta, who called the number of gun violence deaths in the United States an epidemic, said the Office of Gun Violence Prevention will “examine a broad range of factors” and seek an evidence-based and data-driven approach. Bonta’s wife, State Assembly member Mia Bonta (D), sponsored a bill in February that called for the office’s creation.

“When is enough going to be enough?” Rob Bonta said at a news conference in San Francisco alongside gun-control advocates, some of whom had relatives killed in shootings.

“We are in a full-on crisis, full-on state of emergency, and in order to fight this epidemic, it’s going to take new efforts, creative approaches and new action,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today.”

Many Democratic-led state and local governments have pushed for more regulation of firearms — California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has used Republican antiabortion tactics to tighten gun laws — amid higher nationwide homicide rates since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and relatively modest gun-control efforts at the federal level. The number of homicides in California increased by 7 percent in 2021 over the previous year. Firearms were involved in about three-quarters of the killings in which authorities identified a weapon.

Some state and local restrictions could be checked by a U.S. Supreme Court that has taken an expansive view of gun rights, experts said. In June, the high court ruled that law-abiding Americans have a right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense, forcing New York state to rewrite a century-old gun law.

How much the new California body “can achieve will in part depend on how much damage the Supreme Court will do if it strikes down sensible measures,” said John J. Donohue III, a law professor at Stanford University.

“Creative new means to limit the massive increase in gun thefts … to counteract the damage to police effectiveness that follows the promiscuous carrying of guns, and to get guns out of the hands of those who are likely to do harm to themselves and others are sorely needed,” he said. “A dedicated office may well be able to initiate such measures.”

The California Gun Rights Foundation, an organization that has opposed many gun-control laws, and Bonta’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment Wednesday evening.

California said the state office was the first of its kind, but Colorado created a comparable body last year. In April 2021, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell (D) also created an anti-gun-violence office, and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) also set up a Gun Violence Prevention Emergency Operations Center to coordinate enforcement. But violent crime continues to be a major challenge for both cities. Representatives for Cantrell and Bowser could not be immediately reached for comment late Wednesday.

The staggering scope of U.S. gun deaths goes far beyond mass shootings

California’s new office will support ongoing operations to seize firearms from dangerous individuals on the state’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System database. The list includes people who have been convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, are under a restraining order or suffer from serious mental illness.

The state averaged 8.5 firearm-related deaths per every 100,000 people in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That was the seventh-lowest such figure among the 50 states. Hawaii had the lowest number of gun-related deaths per capita, while Mississippi had the highest.

California has the most restrictive gun regulations nationwide, according to the Giffords Law Center, a gun-control advocacy group that pushed for the creation of the new California office. Attorneys at the nonprofit analyzed gun legislation in all 50 states and assigned point values to each state’s laws and policies.