California's Restrictive Gun Laws Still Can't Prevent Shootings

Instead of reducing the dangers posed by criminals, California's gun restrictions have increased the threat posed to decent people by the law itself.


California has the gun laws that restrictionists say they want. Universal background checks? Yes, indeed. "Assault weapon" ban? Through tighter and tighter iterations, you bet. Registration? Uh huh. Red flag law to strip guns from the hands of maybe, potentially dangerous people? For several years now, and toughened just last month.

These are dream laws for anti-gunners around the country, and yet they didn't stop Nathaniel Berhow from murdering two people and injuring three others before shooting himself at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, earlier this month. Instead of being stymied by legal restrictions, the killer worked around them.

For starters, Berhow wasn't supposed to have guns, according to the law. As a 16-year-old, he's too young to possess, let alone purchase, handguns in California.

Mark Berhow, the shooter's late father, was a hunter and did own guns, but they were taken away for some reason before the man's death in 2017.

"The father had six guns registered to him," Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says. "Ultimately, at one point, all the weapons were lawfully removed from the home and he became a prohibited possessor. The guns were subsequently destroyed, you know, legally, and he had no access to weapons at that point further."

That is, Berhow senior's guns were taken away just as the state's red flag laws might dictate, although we don't know the specific legal authority or reason for the confiscation. Where, then, did the 1911-style, .45 caliber handgun used by Nathaniel Berhow in his killing spree originate?

"When we did a search of the house, we encountered what's called a 'kit gun,'" Villanueva elaborates. "The weapon used in the homicide was also a 'kit gun.' It was assembled from parts. It had no serial number, so it was what's called a 'ghost gun.'"

"Ghost gun" means a gun that doesn't have a serial number and (presumably) a commercial source. Some are made completely from scratch based on widely available plans. The machinery required for the job is commonly used for all sorts of projects, although CNC machines and 3D printers are making it even easier. Other guns come, as this pistol apparently did, from part kits that can be used to repair or upgrade compatible firearms.

The receiver—the core component that is legally defined as a gun—is regulated at the federal level. But given that there's an inescapable difference between something that is a working firearm and material that might eventually be turned into a working firearm, a line must be drawn somewhere. The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Explosives currently defines that line as 80 percent completion.

"The ATF has long held that items such as receiver blanks, 'castings' or 'machined bodies' in which the fire-control cavity area is completely solid and un-machined have not reached the "stage of manufacture" which would result in the classification of a firearm," the bureau says.

That means people can purchase unfinished 80 percent receivers free of regulation and finish them in their own workshops, which may be how Berhow's pistol was made.

"Kit guns" and "ghost guns" aren't news to California lawmakers; they were subject to background checks and registration in 2016, although that law has, unsurprisingly, proven unenforceable. The state government passed new regulations on them last month. Going forward, gun parts are subject to regulations much as if they were finished firearms. But even gun control advocates concede the law is rather impotent.

"Even after the law goes into effect, preexisting guns without serial numbers will remain hard to trace. And some new guns made from parts will likewise be difficult to trace. Not everyone will apply for a serial number even though it's legally required," James William Gibson complained in the Los Angeles Times. "The people who buy a given model of precursor part but who do not call and get a serial number can be identified, but it will still take time to trace a particular gun."

Additionally, the new law just sidesteps the problem with which the federal ATF has wrestled: Short of regulating all metal and plastic that might be made into a gun, where does the law stop? California legislators targeted "an unfinished receiver" and "an unfinished handgun frame," then kicked the issue over to the bureaucrats, telling them: "The Department of Justice, consistent with this section, shall provide written guidance and pictorial diagrams demonstrating each category of firearm precursor part specified."

Is it a gun? Is it a block of metal? This should be interesting.

At the same time, California implemented a farther-reaching red flag law, intended to deny the legal possession of firearms to those deemed to be potentially dangerous. The original law was already draconian, leaving lawmakers little room to double-down. They did the only thing left to them—they gutted the remains of due process. That prompted the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to object that stripping rights away from the subjects of restraining orders without giving them an opportunity to argue their cases "poses a significant threat to civil liberties."

Remember—the Berhow family's guns were taken away before the new law ever passed. That didn't—couldn't—stop the home manufacture of new guns without regard for the law.

California is running up against a serious and common challenge: Laws are effective at defining the penalties that you'll apply to people who get caught doing something you don't want them to do. But they're not all that effective at changing the behavior of those who are unlikely to be caught, or don't care about consequences. You can pass a legislative wish list and then tighten it forever. Much human conduct will remain beyond reach.

Fortunately, as horrifying as Nathaniel Berhow's crime was, it remains rare in a remarkably safe country. "For the second consecutive year, the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation decreased when compared with the previous year's statistics… In 2018, violent crime was down 3.3 percent from the 2017 number," the FBI noted in September.

"Using the FBI numbers, the violent crime rate fell 51% between 1993 and 2018. Using the BJS data, the rate fell 71% during that span," Pew Research adds.

Berhow's crime occurred against the backdrop of an America whose people are far less at risk of violence than they were in the past.

That doesn't make the crimes less evil, or the frustrations less immediate—especially for victims and their families. But laws have victims too, as the ACLU points out with regard to California's tightened red flag law. Laws made ever-more draconian in response to crimes that resist efforts at deterrence will inevitably harm the innocent more than they touch the predators. When cops are sent to do the impossible, bad tips are submitted, raids are mistargeted, and lives are ruined or ended.

California has adopted every law gun restrictionists have demanded, but instead of reducing the dangers posed by criminals, it has increased the threat posed to decent people by the law itself.

NEXT: Woman Charged With Texting Boyfriend to Death Actually Pleaded With Him Not To Kill Himself

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  1. This will probably make some of you very angry, but not even your Big Nanny State can prevent all harm no matter how much power you give it. They aren’t gods.

    1. Yeah, the people who write these laws have no experience with firearms. They think they’re magic, they’re just machines. You can’t stop people from machining things.

      You don’t even need to machine anything for a crude firearm, zip guns exist and I’d wager you could make a crude shotgun with stuff you find at any hardware store.

      Here’s a thought: if I can’t legally own any guns at all, and I’m determined to make one for myself, would I be inclined to follow all the NFA rules about length and automatic fire?

      1. Pipe shotguns are easy and there are plenty of diy – howto videos on youtube. They’re all slam fire but should be easy enough to modify if you’re game.

    2. Don’t you dare burst the modern progressive bubble!

      We have been told that by employing the holy process of democracy and guided by post-modernist enlightenment, the future will be exactly what we imagine it should be. Any deviation is due to lingering racist capitalism and mean people.

    3. Doesn’t make me angry. What you say is perfectly correct. In addition, Nanny States tend to spread their powers from the original issue to having power over EVERYTHING!!! Imagine being told Not to drink beer because some dolts get hammered and have accidents. Only a VERY slight (almost invisible) number of gun owners do what these either mentally insane or just plain wicked people do with guns, and the Second Amendment is still there, like it or not. Also, any confiscation attempted by state, local, or federal powers will fail, as most legal gun owners (that is, the VAST majority of gun owners) outnumber the nut jobs in government, which nut jobs willl be thrown out of power the minute they try the crap that Major Moron “Hell, yeah we’ll take your AK-47” excreted. A REAL cure for these shootings is detectors at schools, stores, etc. that would reveal any carrying of any gun into any building without anyone knowing about it. The crap governments want to do are the usual useless, never going to work bleating. Better solution: try something that ACTUALLY WORKS!!! Where I live in Minnesota, no one, not even a mother or father, can gain access to a school. The parents are ushered to a locked room, and the kids are let out from the classroom (if okayed by the person running the “room” ) and then their parents can pick them up from the locked room, that is,no person can going in the school where the classrooms are and do any bad things.

      1. Are you telling me that juvenile delinquency wasn’t ended by putting out of business crime and horror comic book publishers in the 1950s, or that banning Lady Chatterley’s Lover didn’t restore chastity to the population of Boston?

    4. Gods? They’re not even mediocre people. They’re worthless bureaucrats that failed upwards.

  2. Nothing another 10 million heavily armed latin american street gang members can’t fix, I’m sure.

    1. Democrats want to confiscate all your guns while they ignore the abundant evidence that gun control INCREASES violent crime instead of decreasing it anywhere!

      Official government statistics from the USA and UK show that the violent crime rate in disarmed Britain has been going UP while the rate in well-armed USA has gone DOWN.

      Britain’s violent crime rate in 2017 increased to 2,213 per 100,000 people while the USA rate decreased to just 394. The violent crime rate gap has WIDENED to at least 6.85 more from 4.36 a decade ago. see lots more and comment here or at:

  3. Amendment II
    A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

    All Commifornia gun control laws are unconstitutional.

    1. So is pretty much everything the current crop of Democrat Presidential candidates propose…doesn’t stop them trying.


      1. They an easily be stopped. As can all progressives. They could all be neutralized in a week or two. People need to quit complaining, and draw a fucking line in the sand. When the progtards cross it, deal with them.

        Or just admit freedom doesn’t mean all that much and going along to get along is more important.

  4. USA Today Article – What’s a ‘ghost gun’?

    Excerpt – Some of these firearms may be made with plastic parts. This makes them undetectable to traditional metal detectors, the Giffords Law Center said.

    One would imagine the bullets would still register.

    If they won’t argue in good faith, don’t argue with them.

    1. And as I always mention when I see anything involving the Anti-gun Gabby Giffords – she has a warship named after her (LCS-10).

      1. Armament:
        BAE Systems Mk 110 57 mm gun
        4× .50 cal (12.7 mm) guns (2 aft, 2 forward)
        Evolved SeaRAM 11 cell missile launcher
        8x RGM-184A Naval Strike Missiles[14][15]
        Mission modules
        Aircraft carried:
        2× MH-60R/S Seahawks
        MQ-8 Fire Scout

        Nothing says “violate the bill of rights” like a warship.

        1. Semi-OT: Read a history of artillery which turned out to be much more organization-oriented then technology, but never the less had some interesting data. Had two examples of army artillery around 1800. Don’t remember the details, but it was something like horses can only haul around 100 pounds over rough ground, so artillery was incredibly expensive as far as armies went, what with all the people to control the horses,their food, horse feed, etc. Something like 64,000 men to haul around 300 6- and 12-pounder cannon, 100 rounds each.

          Nelson’s Victory has 100 cannon, most 24- and 32-pounders I think, maybe some 64-pounders, maybe a few 12 pound bow and stern chase guns. 1000 sailors, and immensely portable near coasts. The comparison was startling.

          Same with transportation cost comparisons, land vs ship,but that’s even more OT.

          1. Still true today. If it weren’t for the Jones Act we could send things across the country by ship instead of using so much rail and trucking. The numbers are staggering, a single new panamax ship is about equal to a double stack train that carries 24 miles of containers in length. When you consider the max legal train length is about 2.25 miles you realize it’s pretty much a joke. Sure, things going inland would still get bussed unless you’re able to use one river or canal network or another.

        2. Not to worry. All loaded with Projectiles of Peace (TM).

    2. But Gunz!

  5. Aside from self-ownership and all that, the telling pragmatic factor is that almost all these mass shootings take place in gun-free zones.

    It oughta be a clue, but politicians are the last people interested in taking clues.

    1. I understand that these days they isn’t quite true. Still, if you hear of a mass shooting in the US, the odds are very good it was in a fun free zone.

      I only bring it up so somebody can’t say “False! What about (name of incident)?”

  6. No gun law can prevent anything, it only punishes after the fact.

    The left does not now, nor has it ever been concerned at all about gun laws preventing a crime, they only want to end civilian gun ownership in America.

    Everything else they say regarding the topic is just smoke.

    1. I don’t think that’s quite fair. Yes, some of them, and many of the ones DRIVING the movement, want to disarm the citizens to make them more vulnerable to government bullying. But many are simply idiots who think that disarming the citizens will mean disarming EVERYBODY, which it won’t for complicated reasons they can’t grasp.

  7. I am making 10,000 Dollar at home own laptop .Just do work online 4 to 6 hour proparly . so i make my family happy and u can do

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  8. We also love you.

    It oughta be a clue, but politicians are the last people interested in taking clues.

    Ref: satta king

  9. OT:

    Great assessment of the AGW cult:

    Ron Bailey, take note.

  10. Leftist leaders know their policies will bring on an increase in crime and general disorder. The purpose is to use the crimes they cultivate as an aid to clamping down on rights, commerce, and movement.

  11. The main and only problem is focusing on the gun and ignoring the violent criminal who actually commit the violence. There is a very good reason why the Founding Fathers included the Second Amendment in the Constitution. The Second Amendment has to do with protecting Americans. Not protecting criminals and self serving politicians.

    1. I interpret the founders’ intent as sanctioning personal gun ownership to protect people from government. Perhaps progressives and other statists cannot imagine the need to protect people from government. Or perhaps they can, and despise the concept.

  12. “The Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Explosives currently defines that line as 80 percent completion.”

    No they don’t. The lower receiver of an AR-15/AR-10 and the frame of a pistol are the parts that are considered a firearm by legal definition.

    If an unfinished receiver or frame cannot be used to make a functioning firearm than that part is not legally a firearm. 80% is just a marketing term.

  13. Vandikar is right.
    The left wants to disarm the citizens.
    So the government can oppress us.
    The stated reasons of fighting terrorism, crime or mass shootings is all lies.

  14. Gun violence! Two words. Eliminate all guns in private hands through draconian gun-control legislation and there would be no more gun violence, except that perpetrated by government agents, which isn’t inconsiderable. But violence would remain, and the sadistic psychopaths who perpetrate mass shootings would likely turn to bombs or chemical or biological weapons at a fare greater cost in human lives.

    Eliminate violence, and there would be no more gun violence or any other kind of violence. Thus, obviously dummy, the problem isn’t guns. It is violence. Go to work on that.

  15. Sooner or later someone in California’s legislature is going to figure out you cannot regulate the will of man or the thought process behind it.

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