LOS ANGELES – California has some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States, which some Americans see as a model for future national laws. But others worry about the erosion of the right to bear arms as stated in the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
There are few restrictions on owning guns in most U.S. states. Guns are widely used for hunting and sport, and for self-protection.
California and several other states, including New York and Massachusetts, limit the sale of some firearms, ammunition and accessories. California bans the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips and military-style assault rifles to the public. Buyers of other guns must wait 10 days while state and federal authorities investigate the purchaser for a possible criminal record or history of serious mental illness. California registers handguns, and beginning in 2014, will also keep records on rifles and shotguns sold in the state.
Los Angeles Police Detective Richard Tompkins says neighboring states are less strict.
“People do leave the state and buy those weapons out of state and then bring them back into our state. Some people will do it just to possess them. Some people will do it to sell on the open market in the state of California,” Tompkins said.
The sale of guns and ammunition over the Internet is unrestricted in some places. In California, firearms must be sold through a licensed dealer. But with inconsistent laws from state to state, and even county to county, there are gaps in enforcement, says Daniel Vice of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
“As we saw in the Colorado shooting, you can buy thousands of rounds of ammunition online," Vice said. "You can buy full suits of body armor online. You can even go online to find private gun sellers who will sell you assault weapons no questions asked -- no background check, no record of sale. Why do we allow that to happen in America today?”
Former U.S. Army Ranger and gun collector Frank Sharp says most American gun users are law-abiding citizens who are exercising a basic right. He says he was shocked at the recent carnage in a Colorado movie theater.
“There's hardly any way to describe how terrible that incident is," Sharp said. "But I don't think that turning people like me into criminals prevents it. I think that had someone been in that theater lawfully carrying a firearm, there might have been a completely different outcome.”
Los Angeles Detective Richard Tompkins says inconsistent laws cause problems for law enforcement.
“It's hard with the different laws at state level and very few laws on the federal side,” he said.
For some, the federal government's reluctance to pass gun control legislation is the right approach. They say that restricting the rights of gun owners will not address the problem of violent crime. Others say that placing more limits on gun sales can reduce the violence, and that we are overdue for a national conversation on the issue.