Taking Guns Away from Dangerous People is a Good Thing

There are many things about living in California that frustrate me terribly.  But, things like the gun legislation passed this week remind me that, for all its flaws, my adopted home state still has more common sense than much of the country.

As the AP reports:

California will become the first state that allows family members to ask a judge to remove firearms from a relative who appears to pose a threat, under legislation Gov. Jerry Brown said Tuesday he had signed.

This legislation comes as a response to the shootings near the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California earlier this year.  But, even without the tragedy that provoked it, this is a measure that should have passed long ago.  It is obvious that keeping guns away from people who pose a threat to others is an easy way to save lives.  However, it is unusual that such a common sense solution can become law.

Even pro-gun folks can see the good in this idea, though they of course find a reason to object to any legislation that keeps guns away from whoever wants to own them:

“Our concern is not so much what they intended to do; our concern is with the method they put in place to address people with mental or emotional issues,” said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. “We think this just misses the mark and may create a situation where law-abiding gun owners are put in jeopardy.”

But, what Paredes fails to see is how this prevents situations where common citizens, both with and without guns, are kept out of jeopardy.  Isn’t that far more important?  And, even for those aiming to protect the right of gun ownership, it is easy to see that some people simply should not have access to weapons, and that guns in the wrong hands can do a great deal of harm.

There is no reason to believe that this law will do anything to keep guns out of the hands of so-called “responsible” gun owners.  Just like background checks, this is legislation that will affect only those who should not own guns.

And, it is not just mass shootings that could be prevented.  As Don Thompson at Talking Points Memo writes:

Advocates say its greatest use actually might come not in preventing headline-grabbing murderous sprees, but in helping families deal with loved ones who are in danger of taking their own lives or who might be so angry or distraught that they could turn a gun on family members.

When about two-thirds of gun-related deaths are suicides, and homicides involving family members are far too frequent, enabling family members to remove weapons from the home can save lives, both their own and that of a potential suicide victim.

Of course, the actual success of this measure cannot be judged yet.  But, as gun-control advocate Amanda Wilcox says, “It’s hard to know how much it will be used or how much it will prevent.  It only takes avoiding one loss for this to be worth it.”

Death Penalty Killed in California

Though California rarely executes prisoners (at least compared with other states that still practice capital punishment), and have executed exactly zero since 2006, it still technically has the right to put prisoners to death.  At least, it did.  A ruling today from a federal judge has effectively ended that possibility.  And that is a great thing.

From the ruling:

“California’s death penalty system is so plagued by inordinate and unpredictable delay that the death sentence is actually carried out against only a trivial few of those sentenced to death,” [U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J.] Carney writes. “For all practical purposes then, a sentence of death in California is a sentence of life imprisonment with the remote possibility of death — a sentence no rational legislature or jury could ever impose.”

Carney continues: “Inordinate and unpredictable delay… has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed. And it has resulted in a system that serves no penological purpose. Such a system is unconstitutional.”

Generally, what happens in California spreads across the country, whether it be medical marijuana, same-sex marriage rights (ignoring the obvious, though temporary, outrageous interruption that was Prop 8), gun control legislation, environmental regulation, or anything else.  Here’s hoping that trend continues.  Capital punishment is an antiquated and utterly ineffective way to prevent crime.  It is inhumane and cruel, exorbitantly expensive, and is more a means of vengeance than justice.

Many states (and most nations) have independently outlawed the practice of putting people to death, but this is the first time the practice has been found to be unconstitutional.  If the recent wave of same-sex marriage decisions is any indicator, this could be merely the first in a series of findings that could bring the United States in line with the rest of the civilized world.