Jun 7, 2024

FACT SHEET: California’s strong gun safety laws continue to save lives

What you need to know: New data adds to the overwhelming body of research showing California leads the nation in strong gun safety laws, correlating with thousands of lives saved.

A graphic with a blue background and white and orange letters that says' California's strong gun safety laws = fewer gun violence deaths

SACRAMENTO – As senseless gun violence continues to plague the country with an estimated 120 people killed every day, California has reduced gun violence in the state significantly over the last 30 years. Continually ranked as the leader across the country for strong gun safety laws, new findings from the California Department of Justice contribute to the research affirming  the state’s efforts to improve  the safety and security of communities.

In California, we say ‘enough.’ Enough senseless gun violence. Enough tragedy in our communities. We’ve made significant progress to implement nation-leading gun safety laws to keep Californians safe. California won’t stop until we rid ourselves of the heavy toll inflicted by the gun violence epidemic.

Governor Gavin Newsom

Our children deserve to grow up without the threat and anxiety of gun violence. As First Partner and as a mother, I’m encouraged and inspired by the legislative and advocacy work being done throughout California to prevent senseless tragedy. With the strength of our collective voices, we can end gun violence in our communities and ensure every child can safely and freely enjoy their childhood.

First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Year after year, California ranked #1 for gun safety

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California is ranked as the #1 state in the nation for the strength of its gun safety laws — along with some of the lowest rates of gun deaths and gun ownership — by Giffords Law Center and Everytown for Gun Safety. In states where elected officials have taken action to pass gun safety laws, fewer people die by gun violence.

In comparison, Texas and Florida, who ranked 31st and 24th respectively in gun law strength, had firearm mortality rates more than 1.5 times that of California.

California’s gun safety laws have saved thousands of lives

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California has reduced its gun violence rate compared to the rest of the United States. If California’s firearm mortality rate matched that of the rest of the U.S., California would have lost nearly 19,000 more people to fatal firearm injuries in a single decade. 

If the firearm mortality rate in the rest of the United States had matched California’s between 2013-2022, there would have been nearly 140,000 fewer firearm-related deaths nationwide in that decade alone.

In 2005, California’s firearm mortality rate was closer to that of other large states like Texas and Florida. Since then, California has taken bold and necessary actions to tighten its gun laws. The firearm mortality rate has fallen, while the rates have increased dramatically in Florida and Texas.

California’s protection order outreach correlates to reduced gun violence

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California currently has nine separate ways for people to seek protection orders that include firearms provisions. Those include longer-term orders and gun-violence restraining orders (GVROs). At the same time, recent state and local investments have focused on training and educating Californians about this process, which has correlated with substantial reductions in gun violence in California.

Statewide, the total number of protection orders issued with provisions limiting a person’s access to firearms and other weapons increased by 20% between 2020 and 2023. In addition, there have been especially significant increases in the use of GVROs – increasing by 118% during the same period.  

Learn more about these protection orders in the 2024 report released by the California Department of Justice’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

California’s youth gun violence rate down, U.S. rate increases

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Nationwide, firearms kill more children and adolescents than any other cause. Compared to the rest of the nation, California has made substantial long-term progress in reducing per capita rates of youth firearm homicide. 

Preliminary CDC data showed that in 2022, California’s age-adjusted per capita firearm homicide rate for youth under 25 was 45% below the rate recorded for the rest of the U.S. Nationwide, youth gun homicides increased over 37% since 2006. 

California’s firearm homicide rate for youth was nearly 50% lower in 2022 compared to 2006.

Criminals take advantage of softer gun safety laws in neighboring states

A graphic with a blue background and orange and white lettering that says "over half of crime guns traced by authorities were sold in other states"

California’s gun laws stop at our borders, meaning guns that are illegal in our state can still be used in criminal activity here if sourced in other states. 

In 2021, just over half (50.4%) of the firearms recovered by law enforcement in California and successfully traced to a final dealer of record were traced to dealers located in other states. Only six other states traced a higher percentage of firearms used in crimes to out-of-state sources. 

California’s gun safety laws at-a-glance

  • Assault weapons ban: California law strictly prohibits assault weapons. This includes possessing, distributing, selling and manufacturing assault weapons. 
  • Red flag law: California became one of the first states in the nation to enact a red flag law in 2016. California law allows law enforcement, family members, employers, coworkers and school employees to seek a Gun Violence Restraining Order (GVRO) against an individual suspected of being a danger to themselves and others. If approved by a judge, the GVRO temporarily prohibits a person from possessing firearms.
  • Private right of action: California enacted the nation’s first law allowing individuals to sue those making, selling, transporting or distributing illegal assault weapons and ghost guns – guns made at home to avoid tracing – for damages of at least $10,000 per weapon involved.
  • Waiting period: California has a waiting period of 10 days for all gun purchases. The state is one of nine states and the District of Columbia that have waiting periods and California’s waiting period is among the strictest. 
  • Universal background checks: California requires background checks on all gun purchases and transfers, including private transfers and sales at gun shows. It is one of 14 states and the District of Columbia that require universal background checks.
  • Mental health reporting: California has some of the nation’s strongest laws preventing those with serious mental illness from acquiring firearms. California law requires the immediate reporting of involuntary inpatient and outpatient treatment, as well as those under guardianship. Mental health treatment facilities and psychotherapists are also required to report under certain circumstances.
  • Age restrictions: In California, you must be at least 21 years of age to purchase a handgun and at least 18 years of age to purchase a long gun.
  • Additional efforts: In 2023, California became the first state in the nation to call for a Constitutional Convention for gun safety.

Click here to download this fact sheet.