Almost 1,600 people in California used guns to take their own lives in 2016.
That statistic, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represented more than half of the total gun deaths in California that year.
Assemblyman Rob Bonta wants to lower that number by allowing people who fear they may be suicidal to voluntarily join a California Do Not Sell List for firearms. The Alameda Democrat has introduced Assembly Bill 1927, which would direct the state Department of Justice to create and maintain the online do-not-sell list.
"A lot of the political opposition to efforts California has taken to address gun violence is around government telling people what they can and cannot do.," Bonta said. "This is different. This is an individual saying, 'I want to do this. I'm choosing to do this.' We think it will save lives."
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Bonta's effort comes as California lawmakers seek to stem gun violence in the wake of recent mass shootings. The Assembly Committee on Public Safety will vote on the bill during a hearing today at 9 a.m. in Room 126 of the Capitol.
Under Bonta's bill, people who want to join the list would provide the names and email addresses of up to five contacts. Those contacts would be notified immediately if people on the do-not-sell list try to buy firearms.
The contacts would also be notified if people on the list ask to remove their names.
The state Department of Justice would "credibly verify" the identity of people who add or request removal of their names from the list, according to the bill.
The department would also regularly submit the names on the list to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS.
Federal lawmakers are considering "Fix NICS" legislation in response to public agencies failing to enter worrisome data into NICS on gunmen who went on to commit mass shootings.
Under AB 1927, people would have to wait at least one year before requesting removal of their names from the list. If they change their minds, people could submit proof from a medical professional that they do not present a substantial risk of harm to themselves or others with a firearm.
When someone leaves the list, the justice department would remove his or her name and all records of a person's inclusion on it. The inclusion and removal data would be kept confidential, too, in order to not impact other areas of a person's life, such as housing and employment.
The bill proposes no limit on the amount of times people may add or remove their names from the list.
Amanda Wilcox, legislation and policy chair of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said Bonta’s proposal will help reduce firearm deaths.
“Any suicide prevention expert will recommend the removal of firearms from people suspected of considering suicide,” Wilcox said. “This is one way to do that and one way in which the (suicidal) person has the agency do it themselves.”
Dealers who sell guns to people included on the do-not-sell list would face misdemeanor or felony crime convictions, according to the bill, while people included on the list would not face such penalties if they were caught acquiring guns.
The bill also directs the state Department of Public Health to distribute information on the list to hospitals and mental health facilities. Suicide hotlines that receive state funding would also inform callers on how to access the list, according to the bill.
Craig DeLuz, legislative advocate for the Firearms Policy Coalition, expressed concern over the verification process and how bad actors could add a person's name to the list without that person's knowledge. DeLuz said it is unnecessary to also add names to NICS.
"If you reduce the number of entities that are part of the reporting process, you would reduce the likelihood of mistakes (occurring) in the system," DeLuz said. "I get the desire or feeling or instinct that we've got to do something (on gun violence), but ... doing anything is not always the same as doing something that will be effective."
Bonta said the system's verification process will be "rigorous."
"We're not going to be casual about it," Bonta said. "If (the list) can save at least one life, then it's worth it, but I think it's going to save many more."
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