SACRAMENTO -- California's gun laws are the toughest of any state in the nation, but they could not prevent this week's East Oakland shooting that left seven people dead.

And short of banning semi-automatic weapons, it's unlikely that any new laws could prevent someone from going on a shooting spree with the weapon that authorities say One L. Goh used to kill students at Oikos University. Even some of the most ardent gun-control advocates believe that's the case.

"It wasn't a failure of laws," said Amanda Wilcox, who along with her husband, Nick, lobbies for the California chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "I just don't see how our gun laws could have stopped something like that."

Police say that Goh, a 43-year-old South Korean immigrant, used a legally purchased .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol. Police say they believe the gunman had four fully loaded magazines, each with eight rounds of ammunition. Under California's assault-weapons ban, the maximum number of rounds allowed per magazine is 10.

In addition to the seven people police say Goh shot and killed, three others were injured, and several people were shot multiple times. Because there were more than eight shots fired, police are presuming Goh reloaded the gun.

Authorities reportedly have copies of the receipt for the weapon Goh purchased at a Castro Valley gun shop, but they have not divulged details other than to say what caliber gun it was and that it was a semi-automatic.


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Police say Goh has not told them where he discarded the gun, but authorities conducted a search in the Oakland Estuary based on shoe prints found on the shoreline, which was along the route they believe he took to Alameda after fleeing the scene of the killings. He was later arrested at a Safeway. Police say they're continuing to search for the gun.

Goh was troubled. A divorced father who lived under a mountain of debt and whose business had failed, he had difficulty keeping jobs and maintaining his studies. But Goh had no criminal past, no history of being hospitalized with a mental illness and no restraining orders based on domestic violence -- three of the four classifications of people who are prohibited from buying firearms in California. (People younger than 18 are also prohibited from owning firearms.)

Gun-control advocates say a climate of permissive gun laws has made the United States one of the most violent countries in the developed world. Gun-rights groups maintain that equipping citizens with appropriate weaponry can prevent tragedies such as the Oakland shooting because the "good guys" can kill gunmen at the first signs of a shooting spree.

California goes beyond federal law in requiring background checks on individuals who seek to purchase firearms at both gun shops and gun shows. It also requires a 10-day waiting period for handguns and rifles.

Though there is no registration for gun purchases, the California Department of Justice keeps a database of all firearm transfers and sales -- all of which must go through a licensed California firearms dealer.

California has approved 45 gun-control laws since 1989, when the state became the first in the nation to ban military-style assault weapons in the aftermath of the Stockton schoolyard shooting that left five children dead and 29 others wounded. In the past two decades, deaths dropped by 50 percent, while the decline in the rest of the U.S. was 30 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"That's 1,000 lives saved in California that wouldn't have been saved if our decline was just the same as the rest of the nation's," said Griffin Dix, president of the Brady Campaign's Alameda County chapter. His 15-year-old son was killed in an accidental shooting by a friend.

"We've still got a long way to go to save more lives, but this state is doing well," said Dix, who lives in Kensington.

Chuck Michel, a Long Beach attorney for the National Rifle Association, disputed the numbers. "The most effective deterrent to violent crime is in place in the 40 states that issue permits to carry concealed firearms because the bad guys don't know which good guys are armed," Michel said.

The tide has turned against gun-control advocates in recent years. After the federal assault-weapon ban expired in 2004, there have been no serious legislative attempts to restore the law, which banned 19 models of assault weapons, including some semi-automatic handguns. Magazines were limited to 10 rounds.

Even limiting the number of rounds on a magazine has only so much impact. A gunman intent on killing a lot of people, weapons experts say, can do nearly as much damage with a 10-round clip. Reloading the weapon slows the gunman down by seconds.

Congress' unwillingness to address gun laws was most apparent after the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Gunman Jared Loughner used a semi-automatic with more than a 30-round magazine, legal in Arizona and allowed after the federal assault-weapons ban expired.

In the wake of the Tucson shootings, national polls showed broad majorities of adults favored bans on semi-automatic guns. But even in ultra-blue states such as California, there is no movement to ban semi-automatics, which are also used in hunting.

The Wilcoxes' 19-year-old daughter was shot to death in 2001 by a gunman who was a mental-health patient at the clinic where she was a volunteer. He had never been hospitalized for his condition and had access to guns.

"His family was very concerned about him," said Amanda Wilcox, of Grass Valley. "We need to be educated about making sure inappropriate people don't have access to firearms. Sometimes, the problem is not going to be taken care of through the law, so it needs to be family members taking care of each other. You can always give a firearm back, but you can never take a bullet back."

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a handful of gun-control bills, including one that banned most people from openly carrying an unloaded firearm. But Democrats have not had any luck moving legislation that would track the sale of ammunition or large-capacity ammunition magazines -- largely because of the costs associated with setting up a registry.

A bill authored three years ago by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, would have allowed local jurisdictions to adopt stricter gun ordinances than the state, but it never got out of committee.

California's TOUGHER gun laws

Here's a comparison between federal and California gun laws:

Assault weapons
Federal law: Allows ownership of assault weapons
California law: Prohibits ownership of assault weapons unless acquired before 1989
Background checks, waiting periods
Federal law: Requires instant background checks on handgun purchases; no waiting period required; gun shows are exempted
California law: Requires a background check and 10-day waiting period on both handguns and rifles; gun shows are not exempt
Concealed weapons
Federal law: Doesn't ban individuals from carrying concealed weapons
California law: Allows concealed-weapon permits, but the number of permits issued varies widely by jurisdiction
Open carry
Federal law: Allows firearms to be openly carried
California law: Prohibits individuals from openly carrying weapons

-- Staff reporting