Ben Boychuk

Newsom is pandering with a phony gun control measure

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown speaking in April at the Californians for Safety and Justice conference, is proposing a 2016 ballot initiative to strengthen the state’s gun laws.
Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, shown speaking in April at the Californians for Safety and Justice conference, is proposing a 2016 ballot initiative to strengthen the state’s gun laws. Associated Press file

Well, shoot. It looks like we’re going to have a gunfight next year.

No, no – not a gunfight. A fight about guns in California. And political cynicism. Also voter ignorance. Mostly the latter two. Those never seem to go out of fashion.

This week, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom filed his long-anticipated gun control ballot initiative with the state attorney general’s office. Why do we need this initiative? Evidently, our strict gun laws – some of the most rigid in the nation, in fact – aren’t strict ... er, common sense enough.

One gets the impression that “common sense” won’t prevail until private gun ownership is flatly illegal or nearly impossible for all but the politically well-connected.

Until then, we have to contend with incrementally obnoxious measures like Newsom’s. Assuming gun control groups can gather the necessary 365,880 valid signatures, the “Safety for All Act” would require background checks for ammunition purchases and licenses for ammo dealers. It would also outlaw the mere possession of all magazines capable of holding more than 10 bullets.

In addition, the initiative would require owners to report lost or stolen guns to police, and mandate that the state share its list of people barred from owning firearms with the U.S. Justice Department.

Why the Legislature hasn’t been able to pass the stolen gun reporting requirement, I couldn’t say. That’s one of the few “common sense” laws that would actually live up to the name.

But the rest of the “Safety for All Act” is about as phony as “The Safe Neighborhood and Schools Act” of 2014. You probably know that one by its more familiar designation, Proposition 47, which promised to alleviate the strain on our overcrowded prisons by making a half-dozen “nonviolent” felonies into misdemeanors.

Voters were sympathetic to the idea that too many people are sitting in prisons for drug crimes. Those poor meth-heads need treatment, not prison time! The result? Arrests are down, property crimes are up, state drug courts have been neutered and local prosecutors no longer have the hammer of felony probation to keep ne’er-do-wells in line.

Much like Proposition 47, Newsom’s measure depends heavily on buying into shaky premises and ignoring likely consequences.

The initiative peddles the canard that assault weapons are uniquely awful, and refers to “deadly ammunition magazines” as though a spring-loaded metal box could kill without warning at any time. The odds of otherwise law-abiding citizens complying with the magazine ban are slim. Gun owners are more likely to stash them than surrender them. And as 3-D printing becomes commonplace, such bans will be worthless.

Most law-abiding people would likely put up with background checks for ammunition purchases. But the measure’s authors seem to be unfamiliar with the “straw buyer” phenomenon, where people with clean records buy guns for criminals. It’s illegal, but since when do criminals care about the law?

Gun control proponents refer again and again to the massacres at Columbine and Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. Why do we return to those events so often? Because they’re extraordinary. The fact is, so-called assault weapons are used in about 2 percent of crimes nationwide, according to the National Institute of Justice. And never mind that in two of those three incidents, the shooters obtained their weapons legally.

When such mass killings occur, people naturally want to do something. A recent Public Policy Institute of California poll found 65 percent of California adults believe laws on gun sales should be stricter. The results only highlight how little thought Golden State voters have put into the question. They don’t know what they don’t know.

Newsom doesn’t care about the Second Amendment or gun owners’ rights. He cares only about pandering to voters ignorant of our gun laws and becoming governor in 2018. Not necessarily in that order. The trouble is, it just might work.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at bboychuk@city-journal.org.

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