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Editorial: As California reels from its mass shooting, it's still safer than Missouri

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By the Editorial Board

Some might argue that the mass shooting that killed 11 people in California somehow proves gun restrictions don't work. After all, California has the toughest gun-control laws in America. But even a cursory look at the data finds that tragedies like this are the exceptions that underscore the rule.

California has among the lowest gun-death rates in the country, as do Illinois and other states with strong laws. Largely unregulated states like Missouri, meanwhile, consistently have among the highest death rates. What the California tragedy shows is that, in a nation with open state borders and the world's biggest civilian stockpile of guns, only strong national gun restrictions can ultimately address this national crisis.

Police say Huu Can Tran, 72, killed 11 people in a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, east of Los Angeles, then entered a second dance studio where patrons disarmed him before he could shoot. Tran later killed himself in a van as police closed in. It's still unclear whether the guns themselves were purchased legally, but the 30-round extended magazine on the gun that patrons wrestled from him is illegal in California. State law limits gun magazines to 10 rounds.

California also requires that all gun sales go through licensed dealers who conduct criminal background checks on all buyers. There's a 10-day waiting period on all gun sales, training and permit requirements for gun buyers, a red-flag law to keep guns from people deemed potentially dangerous and a raft of other restrictions.

Compare that to Missouri, where there are no licensing, permit or training requirements to buy or carry weapons, no limits on magazine capacities and no red-flag laws. Felons aren't supposed to buy firearms — but since Missouri allows private sales with no background check whatsoever, even that restriction is effectively impossible to enforce.

The impact of those differing sets of laws is clear. California has the eighth-lowest gun-death rate in America, at just 8.5 deaths per 100,000 population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Missouri's rate is almost three times higher and the fourth-highest in the nation at 23.9 deaths per 100,000.

Because guns are more restricted in California, they're less common, per capita. Just 28% of California adults have guns in the home, compared to almost half the adults in Missouri, according to a study by the Rand Corporation. More guns around means more opportunity for gun theft — like the two stolen handguns St. Louis police seized from teenagers involved in the harrowing gunplay that damaged vehicles and endangered lives in the parking lot of City Foundry on Saturday night.

No law can stop every crime, as California's mass shooting tragically confirms. But the data consistently shows that sane gun restrictions make society safer overall. And stripping away that sanity, as Missouri has done in recent years, literally costs lives.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial page editor Tod Robberson discusses the Editorial Board and how decisions are made.

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