There have already been 38 murders in Oakland this year, according to police statistics last updated on June 22. When it comes to aggravated assaults with a firearm, there have been 176, and robberies with a firearm have numbered even higher, at 683.
Reading those numbers off a screen may be startling, but for many Oakland residents, dealing with such reality has become normal. Oakland historically suffers one of the highest crime and homicide rates in the country, and shootings around the city are still serious news, but they aren’t necessarily anything new. So why reignite the discussion?
Earlier this month, news on school violence proliferated the media. A controversial report from the group Everytown for Gun Safety said there have been 74 school shootings in the U.S. since the Newtown elementary school incident. Gunfire near the UCSB campus killed six and injured thirteen, with the troubled shooter taking his own life at the end. A couple of weeks later, a shooting at Seattle Pacific University killed one and left three wounded, and less than a week after that, a shooting erupted at a high school in Oregon, where the gunman killed a 14-year old and wounded a teacher before taking his own life.
Such tragedies call to mind the 2012 shooting at Oikos University, a small Korean Christian college in Oakland, where an alleged former student opened fire, killing seven and injuring three. The shooting became the third-deadliest university shooting in U.S. history.
In the wake of these shootings, should gun violence be reevaluated in Oakland? Where do guns in Oakland come from?
Oakland’s high number of shootings is even more startling since assault weapons are actually banned in the city, and throughout the state. Stores in Oakland aren’t allowed to sell guns, yet they have been reported to be trafficked illegally from neighboring states that don’t have bans on assault weapons, like Nevada.
Elected officials have made various efforts to address this issue, like Assemblyman Rob Bonta and Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who co-authored the bill AB 180. Its aim was to help cover illegal trafficking in the city through legislation that would have required the licensing and registration of gun owners: regulations that no other California city has.
However, Governor Jerry Brown, Oakland resident and former Oakland mayor, ended up vetoing the bill, and in his veto message said that “allowing individual cities to enact their own more restrictive firearm regulations will sow confusion and uncertainty.”
Schaaf said she doesn’t think every city should be held to the same standard when it comes to gun regulations.
“Oakland, California has a unique problem and we should be allowed to have stricter laws,” Schaaf said.
However, Schaaf mentioned, “a number of us are interested in trying something along those lines again” and thought a more specific proposal on licensing and registration laws might be better received the next time around.
Outside of legislative efforts, there have been organizations that have attempted to remove guns from Oakland streets, such as the non-profit GunByGun. They conduct gun buybacks through crowdfunding, and strive to make an impact on reducing guns in communities.
GunByGun had a campaign in Oakland last December, where co-founder Ian Johnstone said there were around 146 guns were collected. Johnstone noted how it’s difficult to draw a statistical correlation between gun buybacks and gun violence.
“You’re never really sure when you do a gun buyback,” Johnstone said. “There are so many factors that impact the rate of gun violence in the community.”
However, based off the organization’s survey data, a majority of participants in GunByGun are not using their compensation money to buy more guns. Additionally, for a vast majority of cases, around 70% of people are gun-free in their homes after participating in GunByGun. Also, Johnstone noted how studies show that for every one percent reduction in the rate of gun ownership, there’s a translation to a similar reduction in homicide and suicide rates.
Johnson said GunByGun plans to have another campaign in Oakland this December.
The answer to preventing gun violence is difficult to define. The physical presence of guns in generating violence is undoubtedly a significant component, but there are other factors in the equation.
“I think attacking illegal gun trafficking is important, but attacking the mindset where people think it’s okay to resort to violence is even more important,” said Schaaf.