State lawmakers today made their first pass at the high-profile debate over gun control in California as they consider a rash of bills in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn. school shootings.
Two former senators who carried gun legislation in the past warned about the death threats that are sure to come legislators' way as they embark on a new conversation about gun control.
Those death threats drove one of the members, former Democratic Sen. Don Perata, to arm himself for protection.
Still, Perata and fellow ex-Sen. David Roberti urged the Legislature to toughen California's gun control measures -- laws some believe are already the nation's most restrictive.
Perata, of Oakland, described gun violence as a "pandemic" that has spread far beyond the violent crack cocaine drug wars that plagued part of his constituency when he was in office.
"It's no longer East Oakland, little black faces ... being affected," he said. "We all are."
Perata pointed to the supermajority Democrats hold in both houses, saying those legislators should take advantage of their powers in this debate.
"Take it out for a ride," he said. "See what you can do with it."
Members did not vote, nor did they discuss specific gun control legislation already on the table. Instead, they promised rigorous discourse on the subject and respect for opposing opinions.
"This will serve as a launching point... for what I believe will be a very active session around gun violence," said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, minutes before he and other committee members inspected an assault rifle provided by the Department of Justice.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, told legislators that they need to focus on existing gun control measures rather than adding more, which will infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens to own guns.
With more restrictive laws, he said, "you will continue to have these atrocities we have seen because none of these laws will impact these people who one day are normal and the next day are ... evil."