SACRAMENTO — California's gun controls are among the toughest in the nation, but they're severely weakened by Washington's failure to pass strong national laws.
It's sort of like the chain analogy — a chain being only as strong as its weakest link.
California is inescapably linked to Arizona and Nevada, states where it's still the Wild West for gun toting.
But even in Tombstone in the 1800s, the Earp brothers banned packing heat in town, which led to the shootout at OK Corral.
These days, criminals are buying weapons at Arizona and Nevada gun shows and hauling them illegally into California.
Anyone buying a firearm in California — whether at a big box or a gun show — must undergo a background check by the state justice department. And there's a 10-day waiting period.
At a gun show in Arizona or Nevada, in contrast, a buyer can immediately toss the weapon in his car and drive off. Maybe even load it first.
Similarly, assault weapons can't be purchased legally in California. Neither can ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets. But they can be bought in Arizona and Nevada.
When someone can drive 20 minutes across the border into Reno and arm himself, no questions asked, it greatly undermines California's laws that are designed to keep guns out of the hands of felons, mental misfits and wife beaters. It also thwarts our efforts to hold down the number of mass-killing machines such as assault weapons equipped with high-capacity magazines.
Sometimes, however, out-of-state gun buyers are surprised as they drive back on the interstate.
Their California license plates have been photographed at the gun show parking lot in a covert operation that isn't officially acknowledged by Sacramento. They've been watched at the gun counters. And they get hauled over by state cops after reentering California, particularly if they've been mass-purchasers of assault weapons and are suspected "traffickers."
Here's one illustration of why we don't want neighbors with weak gun laws: A 2010 report by a coalition of mayors traced guns used in crimes. Adjusting for population, it found that Nevada and Arizona were among the states with the highest export rate of crime guns.
Nevada was No. 9, shipping out 31 crime guns per 100,000 residents. Arizona was No. 13, Mississippi No. 1, California No. 46.
A lot of those Arizona and Nevada crime weapons wind up in the arsenals of California street gangs.
"Arizona is a big problem for us," says L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. "Without federal gun laws, state and city laws in California are half-measures."
Villaraigosa is beating the drums for President Obama's sweeping gun control proposals. Among other things, they would close the so-called gun show loophole by requiring background checks for all firearms purchases in the country. They'd also join California in banning assault weapons and limiting magazines to 10 rounds.
"When the Founders passed the 2nd Amendment, they didn't have assault weapons back then," Villaraigosa notes. "The notion that you're violating the 2nd Amendment by banning assault weapons doesn't pass the history test or the laugh test."
He adds: "If you need a high-capacity magazine with over 10 bullets to hunt a deer, you're in the wrong sport."
Of course, the disturbing truth is that some gun worshipers are not arming themselves to hunt deer. They're targeting the American government.
One troubled man — who clearly should be prohibited from possessing even a BB gun — left me this phone message a few years ago: "Guns are not for hunting. When will you people figure that out? Guns are for hunting down politicians when they steal your rights away through tyranny. Hello!"