Mass Shootings Are Less Likely in California, but 2023 Has Been Bad So Far

With more gun laws than any other state in the country, California has a relatively low rate of mass shootings.

PUBLISHED MAR 29, 2023 8:20 A.M.
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A memorial to the seven victims slain in a mass shooting in Half Man Bay in January 2023.

A memorial to the seven victims slain in a mass shooting in Half Man Bay in January 2023.   Fastily / Wikimedia Commons   C.C. 4.0 Share-Alike License

With the March 27 mass shooting at a private religious school in Nashville, Tenn., there have now been 130 incidents in 2023 classified as mass shootings. That’s an average of about 1.5 per day of the year so far in the United States.

The federal government does not have any standardized definition of a mass shooting, but the Gun Violence Archive defines one simply as any incident in which at least four people are shot with firearms.

Under that definition, numerous mass shootings have no fatalities, only injuries. However many do result in deaths. In 2023 so far, there have been 57 deaths in mass shootings. Of those, 25—or 44 percent—have happened in California. Of the six mass shooting incidents in 2023 that claimed at least six lives, three of them were in California.

Sadly, that figure isn’t too surprising. According to a report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), from 2013 to 2021, California averaged 44 mass shootings per year, or one every 8.3 days. At the same time, California has some of the toughest gun-regulation laws in the United States, including one of only seven state-level assault weapons bans in the country. (The others are Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York plus the District of Columbia.)

Are the state’s gun laws failing? In a year when mass shootings nationwide have been more than a daily event, on average, how dangerous is it to live in California when it comes to gun violence?

Californians Safer Than Average From Mass Shootings 

A 2014 study by researchers at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut found that both state and federal bans on assault weapons showed “statistically significant” effects in reducing deaths from mass shootings. The findings seem to hold true in California where, despite what would seem to be an alarming rate of mass shootings, the state ranks as safer than average. 

The first quarter of 2023 has been a mass shooting disaster for California. 

According to statistics cited by the PPIC report, California compares relatively well to the rest of the country. Residents of the state are actually 25 percent less likely to die in mass shootings than people in other U.S. states. In the time period covered by the report, 1.4 California residents per million died in mass shootings, compared to the national average of 1.9 per million.

California’s mass shooting homicide rate ranked 29th out of the 50 states. 

How does California maintain this at least somewhat commendable level of safety from mass shootings, compared to other states? The most easily identifiable factor would be the 107 gun laws on the books—more than any other state, according to the State Firearms Laws Database. Massachusetts has 103 on the books but no other state has more than 92 (the number in Connecticut). 

The extensive raft of gun laws in California shouldn’t be judged by their effect on mass shootings alone. As of 2020, the latest year for which Centers for Disease Control stats are available, California had the sixth-lowest overall rate of gun deaths in country—8.5 per 100,000 residents. Massachusetts led the country with a rate of 3.7 per 100,000.

California Mass Shootings in 2023

Despite overall historical statistics that look good, the first quarter of 2023 has been a mass shooting disaster for California, with six fatal incidents led by a massacre of 12 people (including the perpetrator, who committed suicide) at a dance studio in Monterey Park on Jan. 21. The deceased suspect was a 72-year-old man, Huu Can Tran.

Just two days later, farmworker Chunli Zhao, reportedly enraged after a work supervisor demanded that he pay $100 to repair damage caused by a collision between the forklift Zhao was driving and a bulldozer. Zhao, who has pleaded not guilty in the shooting, allegedly shot and killed the supervisor and a co-worker who he felt was actually responsible for the accident. He also killed the co-worker’s wife and two others before driving to another nearby farm and killing two more people, according to prosecutors.

A third California gun massacre also took place in January. In the early morning hours of January 16, at least two gunmen massacred six people—including a 17-year-old mother and a 10-month-old baby—inside a home in Goshen, a city in Tulare County. Sheriff’s investigators said that the murders resulted from a dispute between rival criminal gangs over illegal drug and gun trafficking.

California has also seen three other mass shootings that each involved at least one fatality in the first three months of 2023. 

On March 6 in Sacramento County, police say that Robbene Luke Bryson—a houseguest in a home there—got into a dispute with his hosts and shot four, three of whom died. On February 5 in Stockton, four people were shot on a street, with one dying. In San Diego, a man identified by police as Jaime Gonzalez went on a shooting spree, killing one person and wounding three more. And on Jan. 23, during a music video shoot in Oakland, police say a man named Brian Cruz opened fire killing one person and injuring four others. Investigators said the incident was gang-related.

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