All things considered, Santa Barbara County, with its mix of light urban areas and sprawling rural lands, remains a place where it’s unlikely crime will happen to you. “Generally, we’re a very safe county — not just in gun violence, but in crime overall,” said Sheriff Bill Brown, who said that’s also a nationwide trend. Locally, he attributes the relatively low crime to California’s three-strikes laws, advancements in community policing to get at the root of problems, and the increasing use of technology.
He is also a big fan of guns used responsibly, collecting firearms himself and even competing in shooting contests over the years, as well. “I believe strongly in the Second Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms,” said Brown, who also believes that California has “sufficient gun-control” laws, including the bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, the 10-day waiting period, and the mandatory firearms safety courses. “I don’t think we need any additional laws,” said Brown. “We need to enforce the laws we do have.”
Toni Wellen, who founded the Coalition Against Gun Violence 18 years ago to track gun issues and educate the public in Santa Barbara, believes that California’s gun laws are “the best in the nation.” She explained, “As a result, we have lower gun deaths and fewer suicides.” But unlike Brown, she also sees room for improvement, such as in background checks for people buying ammunition and a better system to monitor and regulate firearm dealers, 10 of whom operate in the City of Santa Barbara alone, she said. Only Big 5 and Far West run commercial stores, so the other eight are presumably selling online.
Wellen and Sheriff Brown do agree on a very central point, though: Gun owners must be responsible about storing their weapons. Said Brown, “Anyone who has firearms in their home, they really need to be secure in a gun safe or lock box.” Wellen said that’s been the central point of her outreach for the past decade. “How do you prevent gun violence?” she asked. “You keep firearms unloaded and locked, separate from the ammunition.”
Even then, Sheriff Brown readily admits that, if someone needs a gun, they’ll probably get one. “We’re fortunate that we do not have a lot of guns on the street and not a lot of gun violence in our community,” he explained. “But really, there are so many guns in circulation, if someone wants a gun, they’re gonna be able to find one.”