Opinion: Los Angeles’ new trigger-lock law is a small step toward a safer city
The Los Angeles City Council wisely voted Tuesday to require handgun owners keep their weapons securely stored or fitted with a trigger lock when they aren’t being carried, steps that should help reduce accidental shootings – particularly by children. The vote follows adoption of local gun-control measures in Sunnyvale and San Francisco, and the language reflects the California Child Access Prevention law, which holds adults responsible if they leave a loaded, unattended handgun where minors can reach it.
The city ordinance, which the Times editorial board endorsed, offers no exemptions for anyone – including active-duty and reserve police officers, and people holding permits for carrying a concealed weapon, which Councilman Paul Krekorian initially included in his measure.
Unfortunately, the council made one one change that weakens the law. It allows people to leave loaded handguns unlocked if the weapon is “within close enough proximity and control that the owner can readily retrieve and use the handgun as if carried on the person.” That seems to mean gunowners can sleep with a loaded, unlocked handgun on the nightstand, which opens a dangerous window of access to the weapon.
In the end, the measure passed unanimously (it will have a second vote next week on the final wording). The council also voted last week to ban possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
Neither measure will significantly affect someone’s ability to use a gun for self-defense in the home, even as doubts grow about how effective a deterrent gun ownership actually is. Recent research by David Hemenway of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center and University of Vermont economics professor Sara Solnick found that actual use of a gun in self-defense is rare and that “states with higher levels of household gun ownership have higher levels of firearm crime and do not have lower levels of other types of crime.”
They also found that having a gun had no effect on the chance the gun owner would be injured during a crime.
“Guns did seem beneficial in one category: protecting against loss of property,” Hemenway wrote this week in a Times op-ed. “Looking only at crimes in which the intent was to steal , the victim lost property in only 38% of the incidents when using a gun, compared with 56% of the incidents when taking other actions” such as running away. “But using some other weapon — Mace, for instance — appeared equally effective as using a gun.”
In other words, any weapon brandished in the face of a nonviolent criminal carries the same effect as waving a gun.
So what does this have to do with the Los Angeles City Council vote?
As Hemenway points out, “almost two-thirds of the people in the U.S. population live in homes without guns, and there is no evidence that the inhabitants of these homes are at greater risk of being robbed, injured or killed by criminals compared with citizens in homes with guns. Instead, the evidence is overwhelming that a gun in the home increases the likelihood not only that a household member will be shot accidentally, but also that someone in the home will die in a suicide or homicide.”
Trigger locks can help with the accidental shootings and maybe the suicides and homicides (depending on whether the trigger-puller is the gun owner, and thus able to unlock the weapon, or another person).
Gun-rights folks argue that such restrictions as those pending in Los Angeles are unnecessary because people properly trained in gun ownership know how to store them safely. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason not to require all handgun owners to follow such safe-storage rules.
More broadly, folks who keep guns in the house should look closely at the reasons they have them, and at some of these statistics - the gun is more likely to be used by or against a family member than a home invader - and reconsider whether having a gun handy really affords the protection they think it does.
And as Congress continues to prove itself incapable of taking meaningful steps to protect public safety through reasonable gun control, then more local governments should follow the lead of cities such as San Francisco, Sunnyvale and Los Angeles.
Follow Scott Martelle on Twitter @smartelle.
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