Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday banning the use of lead ammunition in hunting in California, but he vetoed the most controversial gun control bill the Legislature sent to him this year, a proposal to ban the sale of certain semi-automatic rifles.
In mixed action on a high-profile package of gun control bills, the Democratic governor signed legislation requiring buyers of long guns to obtain firearm safety certificates, but he vetoed measures to limit the transfer of unsafe handguns and to let Oakland enact its own, more restrictive, gun control regulations.
While environmentalists claimed a victory on the lead ammunition ban and the National Rifle Association took heart in Brown’s veto of the semi-automatic rifle bill, gun control activists were crestfallen.
“We really expected all the other bills ... to move forward,” said Paul Song, a radiation oncologist in Los Angeles and executive director of the liberal Courage Campaign. “I just don’t get how this could happen in the state of California.”
The vetoed semi-automatic rifle bill, Senate Bill 374, was the broadest of more than a dozen gun control bills passed by the Legislature following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., last year. The legislation, by Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, would have banned the sale of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines capable of rapid shooting. The bill also would have required anyone who has legally owned an assault weapon in the past 13 years to register it with the Department of Justice.
“The State of California already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, including bans on military-style assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines,” Brown said in a veto message. “While the author’s intent is to strengthen these restrictions, this bill goes much farther by banning any semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine.”
Brown said the law would ban rifles commonly used in hunting, firearms training and marksmanship.
“I don’t believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights,” Brown wrote.
The Brady Campaign, which supports gun control laws, issued a statement headlined, “CA Gov. Brown Misses Chance on Key California Gun Bills,” while Steinberg said in a prepared statement that Brown had “missed the opportunity to curb (gun) violence and save more lives.”
The gun bills were the subject of intense lobbying from both sides. Gun control advocates held a vigil at the Capitol on Thursday night, and the National Rifle Association announced earlier this month that it would sue the state if Brown signed the Steinberg bill. The NRA had called the bill “perhaps the worst of the lot.”
On Friday, Clint Monfort, a lawyer whose Long Beach law firm, Michel & Associates, represents the NRA on the West Coast, said the association was “very pleased that he vetoed that bill.”
He said Brown had “respected the rights of California gun owners by vetoing many of the anti-gun bills” that were on his desk, but that the association was “taking a close look” at the bills he did sign to determine if any warranted litigation.
While the NRA praised Brown for his veto of Senate Bill 374, hunters were left to fume over the lead ammunition bill.
Assembly Bill 711, by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood, will ban the use of lead ammunition in hunting by no later than 2019 and require the Fish and Game Commission to certify acceptable non-lead bullets.
Advocates of the ban said lead poses a health risk to people and animals when discharged on state lands or near waterways, while gun lobbyists said the measure would make bullets expensive and difficult to find. In a prepared statement on Friday, state Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, called Brown’s signature on the bill an “all-out assault on our Second Amendment rights.”
In a signing statement, Brown said “hunters and anglers are the original conservationists” and that banning lead ammunition “will allow them to continue the conservation heritage of California.”
The bill signing cheered environmentalists and preservationists, many of whom Brown has disappointed on a range of issues in recent years.
“A lot of hard work,” said Kim Delfino, California program director for Defenders of Wildlife. “This has been years in the making.”
Unlike with other major legislation this year, Brown did not signal beforehand how he might act on the package of gun control bills, and his disposition was difficult to predict.
While other Democratic politicians seized on the school shooting in Connecticut to advocate for stricter gun control measures, Brown largely avoided the issue for most of the year. He has spoken proudly about his own gun ownership, and his record on gun control has been mixed since taking office in 2011.
Earlier this year, Brown deflected questions about whether he would sign a bill that would have allowed Oakland to enact its own, stricter gun control regulations. Brown is a former mayor of the crime-plagued city and owns a house there.
In his veto message, Brown said “allowing individual cities to enact their own more restrictive firearms regulations will sow confusion and uncertainty” about the law.
Call David Siders, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1215. Follow him on Twitter @davidsiders.