SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- It's a reality that's hard to swallow.
Day after day, headlines about victims of gun violence across the country. In Missouri, New York, Texas and now, again, here in the Bay Area with Blake Mohs -- the Home Depot employee shot and killed trying to stop a shoplifter at their store in Pleasanton.
The common denominator across all these tragedies: guns.
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On Wednesday following the recent deadly shootings, Bay Area lawmakers State Senator Josh Becker and Assembly member Marc Berman held a virtual town hall to discuss gun violence and prevention. Among the panelists: Dr. Garen Wintemute, the Director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis.
"One of the myths is that Americans are uniquely violent and that's simply not true," Dr. Wintemute said. "If you compare us to other wealthy industrialized countries, our rates of robbery and assault are actually lower than the average for wealthy industrialized countries."
Wintemute said Belgium, which has low gun violence, has higher rates of robbery than the U.S.
"The difference in the U.S. is not the rate of violence, it's the outcome of violence," he said. "Where we are unique is in our rate of fatal violence, and that happens because we have a unique level of access to a consumer product that changes the outcome."
That product, he said, is firearms.
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According to Gallup, 45% of Americans live in a household with a gun.
In California, where background checks are required to obtain a firearm, data shows the number of people looking to obtain a gun has drastically risen over the last two decades. The graph below from the ABC7 News data team shows that in 2002, California conducted roughly 680,000 firearm background checks. In 2022, that number more than doubled to more than 1.4 million.
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Law enforcement has also cited the rise in privately manufactured "ghost guns" as a compounding problem.
"Here in California, where the illicit market is regulated, major law enforcement agencies have sometimes reported that 30-50% of all guns recovered in crime are these unserialized, privately manufactured ghost guns."
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While recent data on the number of ghost guns is limited, according to the California Attorney General's office, in 2015, California law enforcement agencies seized a total of 26 ghost guns. By 2021, that number had increased to more than 12-thousand.
So, what can be done? At the town hall on Wednesday, one resident asked: Does control even work?
"The answer is an unequivocal yes," Wintemute said. "There are a number of strategies that have been shown to be effective."
Wintemute said one example is gun violence restraining orders, which he said have been used to prevent 58 mass shootings in California.
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Wintemute said that California as a state is an example that gun control measures can work to lower deaths from firearms. He said in the late 80's and early 90's, death rates from firearm violence in California were substantially higher than other states. He said l awmakers began enacting gun control measures and by the turn of the century death rates plummeted.
"In 2020," he said, "Our firearm death rate was 60% lower than the rate in the other 40 states put together."
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Still, those statistics are little comfort to the victims of gun violence.
According to a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, one in five Americans -- 20% of the country -- reported having a family member who has been killed with a gun.
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