Capitol Alert

California Senate approves broad new gun restrictions

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León urges lawmakers to approve his gun control bill on May 19, 2016.
State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León urges lawmakers to approve his gun control bill on May 19, 2016. The Associated Press

The California Senate on Thursday passed 11 bills aimed at strengthening the state’s firearms regulations, already some of the strictest in the nation, and giving the Legislature leverage to negotiate with backers of a proposed gun-safety ballot initiative.

The measures would implement licenses for ammunition sales and background checks at the point of purchase; expand the state’s assault weapons ban to include firearms that can quickly be reloaded with the use of a small tool; prohibit the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds; require owners to report when their firearms are stolen; restrict gun-lending to immediate family members; and establish registration for homemade firearms.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, wearing an orange tie in support of gun safety, said the Senate was rushing to act on the legislation ahead of an upcoming deadline for initiatives to qualify for the November ballot. The proposals on ammunition sales, large-capacity magazines and reporting of stolen guns are similar to components of a measure, backed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, that is currently in the final stages of qualification.

If we can do this in a timely fashion, it is our hope that the lieutenant governor will sit down with us and see the wisdom in not moving forward with the initiative.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León

De León’s goal is to pass the bills quickly and convince proponents to pull their initiative, which he believes is “too risky.” He said it could easily be overshadowed in the expected crush of high-profile ballot measures this fall and be defeated if a surge of new Republican voters turn out for presidential nominee Donald Trump. The possibility that it might drive turnout among pro-gun conservatives, putting swing Democrat legislative seats at risk, has “crossed my mind,” he added.

“If we can do this in a timely fashion,” de León said, “it is our hope that the lieutenant governor will sit down with us and see the wisdom in not moving forward with the initiative.”

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon did not endorse that strategy during his own press conference on gun legislation earlier this week, and de León acknowledged that he has not spoken with Newsom in at least a month.

Dan Newman, a spokesman for the initiative, called the notion “baffling.” He said there are other important elements in their measure, including reporting lost or stolen ammunition and requiring people who end up on the state’s prohibited-owners list to relinquish their firearms, that the Legislature has not addressed in its bills.

“It would hardly obviate the need to make more expansive reforms at the ballot box,” he said.

Newman also disputed de León’s assessment of the prospects for the initiative. He said gun-control proposals tend to drive more people who are disproportionately affected by gun violence to the polls, including young voters and minorities who lean Democratic.

These bills will disarm the law-abiding.

State Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber

The bills, which now move to the Assembly for consideration, passed predominantly with the support of the Senate’s majority Democrats, who said these “common-sense steps” would help keep guns and ammunition out of the hands of criminals and others who are forbidden from owning them.

On measure after measure, Republicans rose to express their fierce opposition to policies that they said were misdirected and intended to dismantle the Second Amendment.

“These bills will disarm the law-abiding,” Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, said. Criminals “will exploit these bills. They will ignore these bills.”

Amid the fiercely divided debate, one proposal did pass with near-unanimous support: Assembly Bill 1176, from Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, which clarifies that all gun theft is considered a felony. If signed by the governor, it would ask voters in November to amend 2014’s Proposition 47, which made thefts worth less than $950 a misdemeanor.

Tim Donnelly, at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame in 2016, says Californians ought to be able to defend themselves in gun-free zones.

"After San Bernardino... People are fed up with the NRA," Gavin Newsom said during a meeting with The Sacramento Bee editorial board in February 2016.

Despite some tension between the Legislature and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Assembly Democrats said during a May 18, 2016 press conference that they're moving ahead with gun control bills. Newsom has a pending ballot measure on gun control.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff