Guns kill people. So when it comes to gun ownership, experience teaches that what you don’t know about handling and storing firearms can have lethal consequences--especially with children around. That certainly was heartbreakingly so when a 7-year-old Long Beach boy was accidentally shot to death last year by a playmate who found his father’s handgun lying unattended on a sofa.
Unfortunately, with 210 million firearms in circulation nationally--and by some estimates more than 10 million guns here in California--the toll from accidental deaths undoubtedly will continue to mount. But beginning Friday, individuals who purchase a handgun in California will be required first to take a brief course in the safe handling and storage of their firearm.
The law, the first of its kind in the nation, was passed in 1991 in large part because of the heroic effort, in the face of hostile political fire, by Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-San Jose), himself a gun owner and hunter. The law is aimed at averting killings that occur because of lack of knowledge about basic gun safety.
Handgun buyers now must earn safety certification from the California Department of Justice by passing a written multiple-choice test or watching a two-hour instructional video at the gun store. One can also be certified by taking safety classes with a police department. The test costs $10. Current and former law enforcement officials, active-duty and former military personnel, licensed hunters and holders of concealed-weapons permits are exempt from the requirement.
California once was far in front on the gun issue, having passed the safety certification law and requiring a 15-day wait for handgun purchasers. Those regulations stand as models of sensibility in a nation riddled by gunfire and reluctant to combat it. But courage has been in short supply recently, as legislators have failed so far to enact a ban on high-volume ammunition clips.
Individually, gun laws, like safety certification, have a limited effect. Yet collectively these laws save many lives. What the State of California is asking, after all, is less than it asks of those who want a driver’s license.