Legislature Advances Gun-Control Bills

Thursday, June 16, 2016
Photo illustration: Steve Straehley/AllGov

By Nick Cahill, Courthouse News Service

SACRAMENTO — Less than 72 hours after the country’s deadliest mass shooting in Orlando, California lawmakers approved a hoard of gun-control bills Tuesday aimed at limiting rifle purchases and mandating background checks for all ammunition sales.

State Senate and Assembly committees voted on 11 gun-control proposals Tuesday, with each bill predictably decided by a party-line vote.

The comprehensive proposals were led by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles) and ranged from widening the state’s assault-weapons ban to tightening restrictions on homemade guns created with 3D printing technology.

 Holding a substantial majority in both statehouses, the Democratic authors testified that their bills seek to deter gun violence through uniformed statewide regulations and prevent recent tragedies like the ones in Orlando and San Bernardino from ever happening again in the Golden State.

“Today any criminal can continue to walk into any Big 5, any Wal-Mart store or any mom-and-pop bait tackle shop and buy as much ammunition as they want,” De Leon said of Senate Bill 1235. “This blind-eye approach is putting ammunition in the hands of killers.”

His proposal would create a statewide database of ammunition purchasers and force retailers to check and run their customers’ driver’s licenses before completing the sale. It also adds a small transaction fee to ammo purchases to fund the regulatory program.

While SB 1235 is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association, the National Rifle Association (NRA) joined Republican lawmakers in fierce opposition. A spokesman for the NRA said a similar federal program for ammunition purchases failed decades ago and didn’t prevent a single crime.

The NRA spokesman opposed each firearm bill heard by the Assembly Public Safety Committee on Tuesday, repeatedly calling the bills legislative roadblocks for law-abiding gun owners and an assault on the Second Amendment.

State Assemblyman Evan Low (D-San Jose) attacked the NRA lobbyist and blamed the organization for the Orlando massacre. Low read the names of several Orlando victims and asked the NRA spokesman how the powerful organization could continue to oppose bills aimed at saving lives.

“It’s very difficult for me to sit here and look at you in the eyes and have respect for you,” Low said from the panel.

Low consistently berated the NRA representative over the more than three-hour long hearing.

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved five firearms measures, including one that limits Californians to purchasing one long gun per month.

Assemblyman Majority Leader Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) said Assembly Bill 1674 aligns rifle and shotgun purchases with the state’s existing limit on handgun purchases.

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Temecula) said he’s worried about the effect the bill could have on hunters looking to buy new equipment or gift guns to friends and family. He called the Orlando tragedy a “federal failure” that should have been prevented by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and derided Democrats for citing the recent mass shooting as reason to support more gun-control laws.

“It’s clear our Second Amendment rights are being challenged,” Stone said.

 The contentious firearms proposals are similar to a competing ballot initiative being pushed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D). Newsom says he will bring the gun-control proposals to California voters regardless of the bills advancing through the Legislature.

Newsom’s measure is being verified by state officials. It calls for background checks on ammunition purchases and outlaws high-capacity magazines.

Two proposals are aimed at regulating the burgeoning trend of homemade guns, or “ghost guns.” The bills would force owners to register and obtain serial numbers for their ghost guns, which are often created with 3D printing technology.

The California Police Chiefs Association acknowledged the danger of unregistered ghost guns and called on the Assembly committee to adopt restrictions on homemade guns to help law enforcement solve violent crimes.

“Last fall a ghost gun was used in a Stockton bank robbery that resulted in the death of a female hostage,” spokesman Jonathan Feldman said. “Because the assault rifle used in that crime had no markings or serial numbers, there’s no record for law enforcement to examine and at this point that investigation has hit a dead end.”

Feldman noted that hundreds of unregistered guns were confiscated statewide in 2015 and that the technology surrounding ghost guns seems to be spreading.

Critics argued that the ghost-gun bills were vague and that citizens have always had the constitutional right to build their own arms.

The proposals have all cleared their place of origin and will move on to appropriations committees for fiscal analysis before a final floor vote.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has vetoed gun-control measures in the past, including background checks for ammunition purchases and extensions of the state’s assault-weapons ban.

In the wake of Sunday’s terrorist attack, President Barack Obama has said that limiting assault weapons like the Sig Sauer MCX carbine rifle used in the Orlando attack could prevent future mass shootings. A nationwide ban on semi-automatic firearms expired in 2004 and has yet to be renewed by Congress.

“We have to make it harder for people who want to kill Americans to get their hands on weapons of war that let them kill dozens of innocents,” Obama said Tuesday.


To Learn More:

California’s Strongest New Gun Law Is Three Years Old (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Did California Just Take the First Step towards Gun Registration? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Court Ponders 10-Day Waiting Period for Gun Purchases in California (by Katherine Proctor, Courthouse News Service)

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