California State Legislature, gun control advocates, gun rights, national shooting sports, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Second Amendment, semi automatic rifles, senate appropriations committee, shooting sports foundation
SACRAMENTO — With summer recess behind them and the legislative session’s five-week homestretch ahead, state lawmakers face a fusillade of gun-control bills that could move California far beyond what any other state has enacted — including proposals to ban a wide range of semi-automatic rifles and impose strict new regulations on ammunition.
And what happens in Sacramento might not stay in Sacramento. With their agenda stalled in Congress, gun-control advocates hope California can break the inertia and reignite the national debate that erupted after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in December.
“When we see movement on the California bills and the sort of tenacity that you had post-Newtown, it makes it really hard for the gun lobby to say the momentum has gone away. And it’s certainly something Congress pays attention to,” said Kristin Rand, legislative director at the Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C. “You can’t underestimate how important it is for Congress to see movement in the states, especially big states like California.”
Nonsense, gun-rights supporters say.
“While they may try to reignite their lost momentum, I don’t think anything California does is going to affect what Washington does,” said Larry Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a firearms trade group coincidentally based in Newtown. “We constantly see a barrage of anti-gun, anti-industry legislation being introduced in California, far more than in any other state.”
The state Senate Appropriations Committee on Monday will hear bills already passed by the Assembly that would create a state database of all ammunition purchases, make it a crime to have a gun that’s not locked up when not being carried, and extend the time for which someone is banned from owning firearms after making a violent threat.
The next day, the Assembly
Public Safety Committee will hear bills already passed by the state Senate that would ban all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, make it a crime to leave a gun unlocked when you’re out of the house and require those who own high-capacity magazines to get rid of them.And while a few bills — such as a 10 percent tax on ammunition and a ban on using lead ammunition for hunting — now seem less likely to advance, many others are waiting to be heard in coming weeks. So gun control will be at the fore even as lawmakers grapple with about 1,000 bills on such subjects as health care reform, fracking and environmental regulations.
“We’re going to be open to amendments and suggestions from the administration and the Assembly, but we think we’ve hit the sweet spot in a lot of these areas,” state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told this newspaper.
“I don’t have any illusion that whatever any state does, even California, will have an impact on the intransigence on Capitol Hill around some of these issues,” but that’s no reason to stand down, he said. “We ought to do everything we can to protect the people of our state from some of these horrible things that have happened.”
Assembly Speaker John Perez said last week he was struck by gun advocates’ recent claims that a huge increase in gun ownership over recent decades — and not California’s increasingly strict gun laws — contributed to a decrease in gun crimes.
“That means California can continue to have very strict gun-control laws and not infringe on people’s individual rights to purchase guns,” said Perez, D-Los Angeles. “I’m also a gun owner, and so I’m always very thoughtful about how you balance safety concerns and the law-enforcement concerns of gun control with the individual rights of gun owners.”
The gun issue has been put on the back burner in Congress since April, when the Senate rejected a bipartisan plan to require background checks for firearms sold at gun shows and online. But a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., recently said it’s “almost certain” Congress will take up background checks again in 2014.
“States aren’t waiting for Congress to act, however,” said Juliet Leftwich, legal director at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “They’re standing up to the gun lobby, and they’re responding to the public’s call for common-sense gun laws.”
Her San Francisco-based group has answered lawmakers’ and activists’ requests for aid in 25 states this year, she said. And in the absence of uniform national laws “it’s really important that states step up and do what they can,” she added. “Hopefully action at the state level will help create momentum for meaningful federal action.”
Even by the standards of California — which for decades had the nation’s strictest gun laws, until New York leapfrogged ahead after the Newtown massacre — the sheer number of pending gun bills is staggering, Leftwich said.
Chuck Michel, an attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said he isn’t surprised. California lawmakers, he said, have pursued “civilian disarmament” for years, and “this year’s extremist legislative package proves that the threat of the slippery slope is all too real.”
“None of the proposed bills will truly reduce the misuse of firearms by violent criminals or the mentally ill,” Michel said. “Although politicians coached by the gun-ban lobby have practiced the emotionally appealing anti-gun sound bite, sound social policy is not effectuated by knee-jerk emotional reactions like these.”
However hot the Legislature’s debate, which bills become law ultimately depends on Gov. Jerry Brown, who won’t comment on bills before they reach his desk and has been an enigma on gun control.
He already has signed one of state Senate Democrats’ top firearm priorities this year: a law diverting surplus money from background-check fees to beef up the Armed Prohibited Persons System that’s used to find and seize guns from felons and the mentally ill. He also signed into law a 2011 bill extending the state’s registration requirements for handguns and assault weapons to all long guns starting in 2014. And he signed a 2011 ban on the “open carry” of unloaded handguns, as well as a 2012 bill extending that ban to long guns.
But Brown, himself a gun owner, delighted the gun lobby by vetoing a 2012 bill that would have made it a crime to fail to report a firearm’s theft or loss to police within 48 hours. He wasn’t convinced it would help catch gun traffickers or disarm criminals.
As attorney general, Brown in 2009 even filed a brief siding with the National Rifle Association in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Chicago’s handgun ban, expressing concern that “California citizens could be deprived of the constitutional right to possess handguns in their homes.”
That’s cause for hope, Keane said.
“The governor in the past has demonstrated independence,” he said. “He is not reflexively anti-gun and will listen to sound policy arguments.”
Where gun bills stand
Senate Bill 374 by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, bans all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and retroactively requires ownership records for all guns. It passed the state Senate 23-15 on May 29 and will be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
Senate Bill 53 by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, requires a background check for all ammunition purchases and licenses for all sellers. It passed the state Senate 23-15 on May 29 and is now pending in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
Senate Bill 47 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, prohibits so-called bullet buttons and other devices used to circumvent the state’s assault-weapons ban and allow fast reloading. It passed the state Senate 23-15 on May 29 and is to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Public Safety.
Senate Bill 396 by state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, outlaws magazines holding more than 10 rounds, even those that were grandfathered in under the state’s assault-weapons law. It passed the state Senate 25-14 on May 29 and is to be heard Tuesday by the Assembly Public Safety.
Assembly Bill 48 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, creates a state database to track all ammo purchases and makes it illegal to build your own high-capacity magazines. It passed the Assembly 46-26 on May 29 and is to be heard Monday by Senate Appropriations.
Assembly Bill 187 by Assemblymen Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, levies 10 percent tax on all ammo to benefit crime-prevention and mental-health services for children. It is languishing in Assembly Appropriations’ suspense file.
Assembly Bill 711 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate, would ban use of lead ammunition by California hunters. It passed the Assembly 44-21 on May 16 and is now languishing in state Senate Appropriations’ suspense file.