Capitol Alert

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to lead California gun control ballot initiative

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is pressing for a ballot measure that would toughen California’s restrictions on guns and ammunition.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is pressing for a ballot measure that would toughen California’s restrictions on guns and ammunition. Associated Press file

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday will introduce a measure for next year’s ballot that aims to stanch the proliferation of gun violence, including a provision to require ammunition buyers to undergo background checks.

Newsom, a Democrat running for governor in 2018, will announce the measure in San Francisco, where he’ll be joined by co-authors from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an organization that grew out of the mass shooting at 101 California St. in 1993.

The proposal follows a cascade of shootings around the U.S., including an average 92 gun deaths each day and four dozen school shootings this year. A renewed assault weapons ban, background checks and other suggested laws regulating the sale, possession and use of firearms have failed to garner support from Congress, which is under pressure from the powerful National Rifle Association and other gun lobbying groups formed to protect the Second Amendment.

California has among the nation’s toughest gun restrictions, including a 1999 ban on assault weapons such as the AK-47 and importation, manufacture and sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines. However, several more recent planned laws in the wake of the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., faltered in the state’s Democratic-run Legislature, or have been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat with a mixed record on firearms.

“In the last 72 hours – 68 people have been killed and 129 people have been injured due to gun violence in America,” Newsom wrote online Wednesday.

His measure, which requires nearly 366,000 signatures to qualify for next year’s ballot, incorporates provisions of bills that stalled at the state Capitol. It would ban the possession of large-capacity magazines – more than 10 rounds – and require anyone who currently has them to sell to a licensed firearm dealer, transfer them out of state or relinquish them to law enforcement to be disposed of.

The pending measure also would force those selling ammunition to be licensed like firearm dealers and require the purchasers to go through a background check. It would establish a process to recover guns from people prohibited from owning them because of their criminal record; mandate individuals whose guns were lost or stolen to report to law enforcement; and compel the state Department of Justice to notify the federal government when someone is added to the database of people barred from buying or owning a firearm.

Earlier this month, Brown signed legislation to ban the concealed carry of handguns on campuses, and last year, after the deadly rampage near University of California, Santa Barbara, he approved a bill allowing temporary restraining orders to block gun use. But he’s vetoed several gun and ammunition bills, including a proposal rebuffed last year that would have required residents to register homemade guns.

In 2012 and 2013, Brown vetoed consecutive bills by then-Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, that would criminalize the failure to report a lost or stolen gun. Supporters argued Senate Bill 299 would provide a tool to identify “straw purchasers” of guns who buy them to illegally resell to people who can’t pass a background check. In siding with opponents such as the NRA and state Sportsman’s Lobby, Brown in his second veto message said he believes responsible people report the loss or theft of a firearm “and irresponsible people do not. I remain skeptical that this bill would change those behaviors,” Brown added.

The prohibition on possessing large-capacity magazines appears modeled after Senate Bill 396 by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, that died in the Assembly in 2013. At the time, its backers said the magazines are designed for only one purpose – to let shooters fire a large number of bullets in a short amount of time. They pointed to the 2011 attack by Jared Lee Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 others including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.

Critics, meanwhile, cast it in an analysis as an unconstitutional taking of property and an “express infringement on the fundamental civil rights of all Californians.”

A bill mandating background checks at the point-of-sale was introduced by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, and was killed in the lower chamber. The California Association of Firearms Retailers contended it would lead to major expenses and be a time-consuming burden.

Newsom is taking a page from elected officials before him and candidates for higher office in California, to varying degrees of triumph. In 2002, before he won the gubernatorial recall election, Arnold Schwarzenegger ran a successful initiative to raise money for after-school education. Gov. Pete Wilson was the face of Proposition 187, which passed but was ultimately overturned by the courts, when he won re-election in 1994.

On the unsuccessful side, former Attorney General John Van de Kamp coupled his 1990 gubernatorial run with three measures he said would, among other things, “drain the swamp” of special-interest influence. But the measures ended up draining Van de Kamp’s own coffers, and he lost to Dianne Feinstein in the Democratic primary.

Newsom, a supporter of recreational marijuana, could be heavily involved in that initiative campaign as well. He also may not be the only 2018 campaigner involved in issues on the 2016 ballot. Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer, a potential candidate for governor, recently joined a coalition pushing a tobacco tax.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

Related stories from Sacramento Bee