Capitol Alert

How Jerry Brown acted on sweeping gun control bills

Enacting the most significant elements of a sweeping package of gun control bills, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday signed legislation expanding California’s decades-old ban on assault weapons and regulating ammunition sales.

Acting less than a day after the Democrat-controlled Legislature moved the measures to his desk, Brown signed bills banning the sale of semi-automatic rifles with magazines that can quickly be detached by pressing a button, as well as banning possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

He also signed legislation subjecting people who buy ammunition to a background check.

In a signing statement, Brown said the measures would “enhance public safety by tightening our existing laws in a responsible and focused manner, while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.”

Of 11 firearms-related bills taken up by Brown on Friday, he signed six and vetoed five, including Assembly Bill 1673, by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Carson, which would have expanded the definition of “firearm” to curb homemade weapons created without serial numbers, or “ghost guns.”

“While I appreciate the author’s intent, the actual wording of this bill is unduly vague and could have far reaching and unintended consequences,” Brown wrote in a veto message. “By defining certain metal components as a firearm because they could ultimately be made into a homemade weapon, this bill could trigger potential application of myriad and serious criminal penalties.”

The Democratic governor’s decisions came amid roiling national debate about gun control following mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando, Fla. The bills Brown signed will further restrict firearms in a state that already has some of the nation’s most stringent gun controls.

California’s Legislature moved the bills to Brown’s desk on Thursday, and he acted just hours before leaving the country for a European vacation.

In a prepared statement, Sen. Isadore Hall, D-Compton, said the bill signings “send an important message” to politicians in Washington.

“Now is not a time for more empty rhetoric,” he said. “Now is a time to act. Now is the time to stop the senseless bloodshed and end our nation’s gun violence epidemic.”

The bills passed the Legislature along largely partisan lines, with Republicans saying they would burden law-abiding gun owners.

Following Brown’s action, the National Rifle Association released a statement tearing into what it called a “draconian gun control package that turns California’s law-abiding gun owners into second-class citizens.”

David Matza, a spokesman for the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said litigation challenging the bills is “in process.”

The gun control package moved forward at the Capitol even as Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom qualified a November ballot measure proposing stricter gun controls.

In a political rivalry between Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, Newsom aides last week accused de León of “petty personal grudges” after the Senate amended his ammunition legislation, which Brown signed, to preempt a portion of Newsom’s ballot measure if both pass.

In an interview Thursday, Brown declined to comment on the conflict between Newsom and de León, except to say that the dispute is “in the weeds.” But he appeared at times on Friday to defer to the pending ballot measure.

Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 1176, by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, which sought to clarify that stealing a firearm is felony grand theft.

In his veto message, Brown said, “This bill proposes to add an initiative that is nearly identical to one which will already appear on the November 2016 ballot. While I appreciate the author’s intent in striving to enhance public safety, I feel that the objective is better attained by having the measure appear before the voters only once.”

In an email, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said, “The governor took swift action today and voters will have a chance to go even further in November, if they choose, with the lieutenant governor’s initiative.”

Brown’s signatures and vetoes on Friday reflected a record of seeking middle ground on gun control since returning to office in 2011. In 2013, he signed bills banning the use of lead ammunition for hunting and requiring buyers of long guns to obtain firearm safety certificates, but he vetoed a bill to ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines.

The fourth-term governor has spoken in the past about owning guns and, after a goose hunt decades ago, posed for a photograph on a Colusa County ranch holding a shotgun.

Earlier this year Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, won a 12-gauge shotgun at an auction at a charity dinner in Colusa County.

Brown has held California gun restrictions out as “some of the toughest” in the country, while complaining that more permissive laws in neighboring states dilute their effect. Following the December rampage at a social services center in San Bernardino that left 14 people dead, Brown called “wide open” gun laws in Nevada and Arizona a “gigantic back door through which any terrorist can walk.”

The guns used were purchased legally in California before being modified, authorities said.

The Legislature approved 12 bills on Thursday. One of the bills, which would have required a unique serial number or other official seal before assembling a firearm, was not immediately sent to Brown’s desk.

Bills Brown signed:

▪ Assembly Bill 1511, by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, D-Los Angeles, requiring that the infrequent loans of a firearm be made only to family members.

▪ Senate Bill 880, co-authored by Hall and Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, and Assembly Bill 1135, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-Greenbrae, amending the definition of assault weapons to include semi-automatic rifles with magazines that can be detached with a bullet button.

▪ Assembly Bill 1695, by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, expanding the existing misdemeanor of making a false report to law enforcement to include that a firearm has been lost or stolen, and imposing a 10-year ban on owning a firearm for people convicted of making a false report.

▪ Senate Bill 1235, de León, creating a new regulatory framework for purchasing and selling ammunition.

▪ Senate Bill 1446, Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, banning possession of high-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

Bills Brown vetoed:

▪ Assembly Bill 1176, by Cooper, which would have put an initiative on the ballot to clarify that stealing a firearm is felony grand theft.

▪ Assembly Bill 1674, by Santiago, which would have extended the limit on handguns of one purchase per month to long guns.

Brown said in a veto message that the regulation “would have the effect of burdening lawful citizens who wish to sell certain firearms that they no longer need.”

▪ Assembly Bill 2607, by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, which would have expanded the list of people who are able to petition for gun violence restraining orders to include employers, co-workers, and mental health and school workers who had contact with the subject in the past six months.

In a veto message, Brown said expanding the list would be “premature.”

▪ Senate Bill 894, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, which would have made it an infraction to fail to report the theft or loss of a stolen firearm.

In a veto message, Brown noted that he vetoed similar messages in 2012 and 2013 “because I did not believe that a measure of this type would help identify gun traffickers or enable law enforcement to disarm people prohibited from having guns.

“I continue to believe that responsible people report the loss or theft of a firearm and irresponsible people do not; it is not likely that this bill would change that.”

▪ Assembly Bill 1673, by Gipson, which would have expanded the definition of “firearm” to curb homemade weapons created without serial numbers, or “ghost guns.”

Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2:25 p.m. Friday to correct an inaccurate description of Assembly Bill 1695.

David Siders: 916-321-1215, @davidsiders

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