Another school shooting has come and gone.
It’s not right that I have to start a column with a sentence like that. There’s something wrong with the world when mass murderers show up on CNN as often as they do on Law & Order, but by now the routine’s familiar. A deranged maniac gets ahold of dangerous weapons, goes to a heavily-populated area and commits violent atrocities. Traumatizing a community and throwing another log on the fire of public discontent. The gun control debate rages for a couple of weeks and then dies down, waiting for the next mass shooting to thrust it back into the public consciousness.
What doesn’t occur is a frank discussion on gun laws that are already in place — specifically, on the inconsistent enforcement of those laws. Rules are meaningless if they don’t have structure, and these days, arguments over different theories of gun control always eclipse discussions of their efficacy. Having the philosophical conversation is important, especially in the wake of a tragedy like the one in Parkland, but it’s also important to take a look at how the implementation of legislation really pans out. With that in mind, let’s compare two states known for the severity of their gun laws: New Jersey and California, as partially highlighted in an article by the Washington Post.
The Garden State boasts the sixth-lowest rate of firearm-related deaths in the country. It’s also very difficult to legally acquire a gun in an expedient manner unless you’re a police officer. When looking at these two facts without context, they appear to support the argument that stricter gun control laws on their own reduce the rate of gun violence.
Contrast that with California, a state whose 110-page constitution does not guarantee private citizens the right to bear arms and whose Supreme Court seems to regard the 2nd Amendment with casual disdain, if not outright contempt. Based on the precedent established by New Jersey, it would make sense for California’s firearm death rates to be similarly low — but they aren’t. The laws of the Golden State don’t exempt it from scrutiny, as California’s rate of gun-related deaths is significantly higher than New Jersey’s despite the more restrictive legislation. Why is that?
The difference comes down to consistency. California’s firearm policies aren’t enforced in every district — you’ll have a hard time buying a handgun in Los Angeles or San Francisco, but if you drive a few hours into the countryside you’re bound to find a municipality where the state’s gun laws aren’t as rigidly enforced. You can’t do that in New Jersey, because driving a few hours into the countryside will land you in Pennsylvania.
New Jersey is extremely small in comparison to California. The state is much less difficult to police, and consequently the state government has a far easier time enforcing its weapon laws. Despite having about four times as many people, California’s nowhere near as densely populated — it’s over twenty times the size of New Jersey in terms of square footage, and physical distance is a critical factor when it comes to law enforcement’s ability to do their job.
A person who lives in the relatively safe suburbs of New Jersey will find it easy to condemn other states for their unwillingness to introduce tougher gun laws. What they fail to recognize, and what they need to understand, is that their own state possesses qualities that give an overwhelming advantage to the people tasked with carrying out the law. It’s all well and good to argue over which gun control policies will best prevent further tragedy, but following through on laws that have already been established is just as important.
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