Capitol Alert

Newsom camp calls de León gun change ‘shockingly, sickeningly cynical’

Prompting an accusation of “self-serving” political manipulation, California’s state Senate leader has amended a gun control bill that would alter a key section in a ballot initiative backed by a fellow Democrat.

For months, gun control measures pushed by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom have advanced on separate tracks. De León has pushed to regulate ammunition sales through the Legislature, while Newsom has campaigned to put the idea before voters.

That has amplified tension between the camps of the two Democrats, with de León urging Newsom to pull his initiative if the legislation advances and the lieutenant governor’s campaign rejecting that entreaty. Newsom’s measure has officially qualified, and he faces a June 30 deadline to withdraw it from the ballot, though he’s given no indication he plans to do so.

Each side believes its plan for regulating ammunition purchases is the most effective. Now de León has amended Senate Bill 1235 so that, should both measures pass, the Senate bill’s approach to regulating ammunition sales would preempt and replace the corresponding section in the voter-approved initiative.

Newsom’s version would vet prospective ammunition buyers in advance through Department of Justice background checks. De León’s would use an existing database of people prohibited from owning guns at the point of sale. If both measures pass, SB 1235 would leave intact other sections of the initiative dealing with areas like ammunition vendor licensing.

“The recent amendment will allow the state to accomplish the initiative’s objective of requiring background checks for all ammunition purchases, but makes it less costly to taxpayers, less burdensome to gun owners and significantly easier to implement using today’s technology,” Dan Reeves, de León’s chief of staff, said in an email.

But the move drew a scathing rebuke from a Newsom campaign spokesman, who called the maneuver “sickeningly cynical.”

“This last-minute, anti-democratic, poison pill sneak attack makes you wonder if the Pro Tem cares about himself more than he cares about doing the right thing,” spokesman Dan Newman said. “Is he someone who truly respects the will of the voters and wants to reduce gun violence or is he merely a self-serving cynic completely consumed with petty personal grudges?”

The text of Newsom’s initiative allows the Legislature to amend the act, as long as legislators vote by a 55 percent margin to make changes that “are consistent with and further the intent of” the measure. Reeves said the changes proposed by de León fit that standard by strengthening the measure.

Jeremy B. White: 916-326-5543, @CapitolAlert