California’s Democratic-controlled Legislature on Thursday approved far-reaching bills to bolster the state’s strong gun restrictions, sending Gov. Jerry Brown a package of measures revived after the deadly attack last year in San Bernardino.
Lawmakers moved all 12 bills taken up, including those expanding the historic 1989 ban on assault weapons, barring possession of high-capacity magazines that accommodate more than 10 rounds of ammunition, instituting tighter deadlines for owners to report stolen firearms and regulating ammunition sales.
While California’s gun control laws are among the toughest in the nation, the latest effort comes amid a series of unabated massacres dominating the headlines – from the December shooting in San Bernardino where husband-wife terrorists killed 14 people to the recent attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where an aggrieved shooter gunned down 49 people and injured more than 50 others, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.
Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, authored the ammunition regulation bill after a past attempt requiring in-person ammo sales was tossed out in court for being too vague. He called it “ridiculous” that terrorist sympathizers and some gangs are exploiting broken gun laws to harm communities.
“That means any loophole we close in our system is a life saved,” de León said. “We press wounds, we don’t leave bullet holes open if we actually want to stop the bleeding. How much more blood will it take?”
The fate of the proposed measures is now with Brown, who has signed some gun bills and vetoed others in his second stint as governor. Brown suggested in an interview Thursday that he will again take mixed action on the gun control measures, before leaving on a European vacation Friday.
“We certainly have a lot of laws here,” Brown said. “Of course, that’s my general view. We could probably have fewer, but we’ll look at them.”
Advancing on a separate track, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, championing a fall ballot measure to crack down on ammo purchases, said he would not withdraw his initiative despite bills now on Brown’s desk that include some similarities. Newsom is marking the need for action with Twitter messages about the 224 incidents of gun violence in the U.S. over the last three days.
“After two years of relative silence from the Legislature on gun violence, (Newsom’s) leadership spurs action,” wrote his spokesman, Rhys Williams.
Nearly three decades after becoming the first state to prohibit semi-automatic rifles – following the killing of five children by a man with a semi-automatic AK-47 in the 1989 shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton – lawmakers moved to close a much-debated loophole in law allowing people to modify their guns to make them more powerful. Critics said the new iteration would do little to stem gun violence.
“You want to blame something you can control,” Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, said during a brief debate on the floor. “But you cannot control murder and you cannot control insanity.”
But Democrats called it legislation that will save lives and prevent more mass carnage.
“The Second Amendment was never meant to cover these types of assault weapons,” Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, the author of a related measure dealing with bullet buttons, said on the floor, where he later appeared holding a musket.
Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, said her “high-capacity” magazine ban is needed because they are “not for target shooting or hunting.”
“Their sole purpose is to kill people in the shortest period of time,” Hancock said. She pointed to the recent events in Orlando, saying “you can clearly hear at least 22 rounds being fired in rapid succession from inside the building.”
“If the shooter had to stop to reload, he might have been stopped and lives would have been saved.”
The action in the Legislature brought tensions between de León and Newsom over their respective measures and deeper political rivalries. Last week, aides to Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, lashed out at de León for “petty personal grudges” when the Senate amended his ammo legislation, Senate Bill 1235, that would pre-empt a section of Newsom’s ballot measure should both pass.
Newsom’s version would vet prospective ammunition buyers in advance through background checks by the Department of Justice, while de León’s wants to use an existing database of people prohibited from owning guns at the point of sale.
De León obtained a letter from the Legislative Counsel’s Office stating that SB 1235 would not expand the list of people and groups exempted from the ammo purchasing authorization requirements. On Thursday, he suggested Newsom is acting out of ambition rather than sincerity to the policy.
“We don’t govern by tweets. We pass laws,” he said, without naming the lieutenant governor. Warning about the risk of going to the ballot box, de León added, “political ambition has no place in this fight.”
Republicans mounted an unlikely defense of an initiative they oppose in a futile attempt to block debate on de León’s bill. Said Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine: “We are acting with extreme hubris in deciding we can trump the will of the people.”
The following bills were sent to Brown’s desk:
▪ Assembly Bill 1674, Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, extends the limit on handguns of one purchase per month to long guns.
▪ Assembly Bill 1511, Santiago, requires that the infrequent loans of a firearm be made only to family members.
▪ Assembly Bill 2607, Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, expands the list of people who are able to petition for gun violence restraining orders to include employers, co-workers, and mental health and school workers who had contact with the subject in the past six months.
▪ Assembly Bill 1673, Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, expands the definition of “firearm” to curb homemade weapons created without serial numbers, or “ghost guns.”
▪ Assembly Bill 857, Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, requires a unique serial number or other official seal before assembling a firearm.
▪ Senate Bill 894, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Assembly Bill 1695, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, would mandate swifter reporting periods for lost or stolen firearms.
▪ Senate Bill 880, co-authored by Sens. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, and Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, and Assembly Bill 1135, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, amends the definition of assault weapon to include semi-automatic rifles with magazines that can be detached with a button.
▪ Senate Bill 1235, de León, creates new regulatory framework for purchasing and selling ammunition.
▪ Senate Bill 1446, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, bars possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
▪ Assembly Bill 1176, Cooper, clarifies that stealing a firearm is felony grand theft.
David Siders of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.