Don’t weaken handgun safety

Handguns fill a display case at a gun shop in North Highlands.
Handguns fill a display case at a gun shop in North Highlands. Sacramento Bee file

A bill that may soon pass the Legislature and land on the governor’s desk would undermine California’s handgun safety standards that have reduced gun deaths.

After California enacted the safety standards in 1999 and 2003, the state Department of Justice began testing handguns and listed hundreds of models that could be sold here. California’s regulations weeded out handguns that were poorly designed or manufactured and often misfired, as well as those that lacked safety features, such as indicators that show when the chamber is loaded and devices that prevent guns from firing when the magazine is removed.

The laws worked. By 2014, California’s rate of unintentional firearm deaths had fallen to less than one-fourth the rate in other states.

These laws exempted specific categories of trained peace officers, allowing them to purchase handguns not on the approved list. But in recent years, some other government employees, who could not legally obtain nonapproved handguns, showed their government IDs to certain gun dealers who illegally sold them.

Rather than finding a workable way to replace these unsafe handguns with legal ones, Assembly Bill 2165 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, an Oakland Democrat, makes it legal for these employees to possess these handguns.

In addition, the bill would worsen the problem of unsafe handguns by allowing tens of thousands of employees in more than 20 government departments to obtain them, including personnel in Parks and Recreation, DMV, municipal water districts and many others whose jobs in part involve security, investigations or inspections. They would not only be allowed to use them when on duty, but could take them home.

But that is not the worst of it. Bonta was forced to amend the bill so that these employees could only sell unapproved handguns to colleagues, not to the general public. But it turned out that this safeguard would require a Justice Department technology upgrade that was too costly. So when employees seek to sell an unapproved handgun, the bill puts the onus on licensed gun dealers to verify that the seller and buyer can legally make the transfer. But if the Justice Department can’t do so, how can gun dealers?

The bill was approved by the Senate last week and is before the Assembly. If it passes and Gov. Jerry Brown does not veto this bill, it will take effect in less than four months without adequate enforcement, and California’s handgun safety standards will be dangerously subverted.

Griffin Dix of Kensington is co-chairman of the Oakland/Alameda County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. His son was killed in an unintentional shooting with a pistol that lacked a prominent loaded-chamber indicator. He can be contacted at