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  • RANDALL BENTON / Bee file, 2012

    Possible new city regulations include more restrictions on where guns may be sold and requiring increased security in shops.

  • Jay Schenirer

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City Council may seek stricter rules on guns in Sacramento

Published: Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013 - 7:45 pm

The reminders of Sacramento's struggles with gun violence are constant.

Police reported a 21 percent increase last year in major crimes involving guns. On New Year's Eve, two people were fatally shot inside a packed Old Sacramento bar. And earlier this month, police found guns on the campuses of two Natomas schools in what they said were unrelated incidents.

Now, at the urging of Councilman Jay Schenirer, who represents Oak Park and other city neighborhoods troubled by gun crime, city lawyers are analyzing a menu of options for stricter regulations on firearm dealers and certain types of ammunition. Sacramento already has among the most stringent gun control laws in the nation, but the City Council could debate enacting even tougher restrictions as early as April.

"It's time to send a really strong message that on gun issues, we're going to take action," Schenirer said. "I don't want to do things just for show. We need to do everything we can to take guns and ammunition out of the hands of people who should not have them."

Sacramento's gun debate, like others going on around the country, was spurred in part by December's fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Events closer to home also provided a push. Following the New Year's Eve shootings of four people in an Old Sacramento bar, two of whom died, Mayor Kevin Johnson proposed a gun-buyback program. That proposal is still being examined, and Johnson said he supports Schenirer's "efforts to see how we can take swift action."

"It's vital that we explore every opportunity to improve the safety of our community," the mayor said Thursday.

City staff members have drawn up a list of eight regulations the City Council could enact that do not interfere with state or federal laws. Those options were presented last week to the council's Law and Legislation Committee, which directed staff members and police officials to analyze what impact the potential new laws would have on gun violence in the city.

Possible ordinances include regulating where firearm dealers could operate; requiring gun shops to increase in-store security and to prohibit people under age 21 from entering their establishments; and banning the sale and possession of .50-caliber ammunition.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, warned that the city is opening itself up to a legal battle if it places additional restrictions on gun dealers.

"There is a strong potential to go to court and sue the city to say they are placing an undue burden on businesses that specifically provide the products that allow people to exercise their Second Amendment rights," he said.

Still, Paredes doesn't appear confident the City Council will heed his warning.

"Unfortunately, right now there isn't a member of the Sacramento City Council that is a supporter of the Second Amendment," he said. "They are inclined to go way to the left of the right to keep and bear arms, and some are downright hostile to that right."

Juliet Leftwich, legal director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, offered a different view.

"Public support for common-sense gun laws has never been stronger," she said Thursday.

Leftwich said there has been a resurgence in local governments debating tougher gun laws since the Newtown tragedy. She said those laws can be effective in "filling in the gaps in state and federal laws," especially when it comes to restricting where gun dealers can operate.

"It's important for states to step up, and when they don't, it's important for local governments to do so," she said.

The gun control debate is being waged at the state Capitol and in cities and counties around California.

At the Capitol, where elected leaders often boast of what they call the nation's strictest firearm regulations, a handful of bills have been introduced in recent months.

The proposed laws include requiring ammunition dealers to have permits. Customers would have to show identification when they purchase ammunition. A tax break has also been floated for gun owners who voluntarily surrender a firearm to a local government conducting a buyback program.

The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors last month placed a temporary hold on allowing new gun stores in the county and is considering tough restrictions on those shops.

In San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Malia Cohen last month floated a bill that would make it illegal to possess hollow-point bullets. The law would also require gun shops to tell police when a customer buys more than 500 rounds of ammunition.

In Sacramento, an ordinance crafted by Councilman Kevin McCarty in 2007 requires those who buy ammunition in the city to show identification and give their thumbprints. The records are cross-checked with state Department of Justice data to see if those customers are permitted to own guns.

Since it went into effect, the law has led to 230 guns being confiscated. But over the last two years, the rate of guns being taken has declined, in part due to customers buying ammunition in neighboring jurisdictions without the restrictions, McCarty said.

That has led McCarty and others to advocate for stronger statewide and regional laws.

"If we have it and our neighbors don't, there's only so much we can do," he said.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Ryan Lillis



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