Capitol Alert

NRA takes aim at California to reverse its strong gun control laws

A firearms advocacy group has gone to court to challenge the constitutionality of California’s new assault weapons ban, as well as other major gun control laws passed last year by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature, arguing that “assault weapon” is a “political term.”

The California Rifle & Pistol Association filed a lawsuit against the state Monday in federal court targeting six laws that took effect Jan. 1. Those, along with provisions of a successful 2016 statewide ballot initiative, have made California’s gun restrictions the strictest in the U.S., according to a ranking by The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun-control nonprofit.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is named in the complaint as the sole defendant.

“The Second Amendment squarely protects (the) right to keep and bear arms, typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” the lawsuit reads. “California plainly infringes (on) that right by completely barring plaintiffs from acquiring, transferring or possessing commonly owned rifles that it pejoratively labels ‘assault weapons’ – a non-technical, political term of ever-changing definition and scope with no connection to the public safety interests that the law purports to serve.”

Becerra, in response to the lawsuit, said he intends “to rigorously defend California law.”

The National Rifle Association, the parent organization of the Fullerton-based group that filed the suit, has promised to take on California’s gun-control laws, including last November’s Proposition 63, the successful state ballot initiative backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

“The fight is on,” the NRA said last year in response to the measure, which passed with more than 63 percent of the vote. It prohibits possession of large-capacity magazines and strengthens background-check rules.

The state laws, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, prohibit the sale of semi-automatic rifles with magazines that can be quickly detached, and possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The laws also require background checks for ammunition sales and limit gun loans between family members.

In a statement Tuesday, the NRA said it “looks forward” to the lawsuit “moving forward.”

“The Assault Weapons Control Act has never worked in California,” the group said, referring to the landmark gun-control legislation approved in 1989, “and instead of facing that fact, legislators continue to expand it rather than look to enact change that actually reduces crime.”

State officials rebuffed the lawsuit.

“Background checks and other gun laws California has enacted have saved lives and are key in making our mortality rate one of the lowest in the nation,” state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said in a statement. “I am confident that the courts will reject the NRA’s arguments – just as our voters did in November, and uphold California’s right to implement common-sense policies to protect its people.”

“The people of California have already spoken loudly and they soundly rejected the NRA's deceit and profit-driven agenda,” Newsom said in a statement. “Whatever challenge the NRA throws down against California’s voters, we'll rise against it. We’ll never stop fighting to save lives by reducing gun violence.”

The NRA and the state rifle and pistol association are more influential on a national level than they are in deep-blue California. The groups rank low in total spending on lobbying the state Legislature, with less than $400,000 spent last year.

Editor’s note: This story has been revised to include Newsom’s comment.

Angela Hart: 916-326-5528, @ahartreports