An attack on the Second Amendment or much-needed legislation to address gun violence?
California legislators considered that question repeatedly this year in committee hearings and in passionate, mostly partisan, debates on the Assembly and Senate floors.
Now, the state’s Democratic governor will decide the fate of 14 bills to strengthen gun laws already considered some of the toughest in the country. Although he has weighed in on other high-profile legislation, Jerry Brown has offered little insight into how he will approach gun control.
Among the proposed laws being considered are Senate leader Darrell Steinberg’s bill to prohibit semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines capable of rapid shooting. Other bills would require all gun owners to obtain a safety certificate, prohibit magazine-repair kits and allow the city of Oakland to pass its own gun regulations.
“The opponents like to paint it as some unreasonable restriction on gun ownership,” said Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “And these bills are anything but. They are drawing a very careful distinction between gun ownership for sport, hunting and even self-defense – versus these guns that by definition fire dozens or hundreds of rounds indiscriminately and kill people.”
Senate Bill 755 by Lois Wolk, D-Davis, would expand the list of crimes that result in a 10-year ban on owning a firearm to include driving under the influence and public intoxication when there are two convictions in three years.
Many of this year’s gun bills came in the wake of last year’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults. The tragedy sparked a fierce debate over national gun control laws earlier this year.
The U.S. Senate in April balked at measures that banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and required background checks during the purchase of guns at gun shows or on the Internet.
Earlier this week, gun-rights supporters logged a major victory when Colorado voters recalled two Democratic lawmakers over their support of the state Senate’s gun gun control efforts.
In California, gun-rights advocates said their frustration with legislators pushing gun bills is based on the lack of knowledge of the weapons they sought to regulate.
“You have people who write this legislation who don’t understand the technology and thus don’t understand why the bill is a problem,” said Craig DeLuz, a lobbyist for the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees. “And in the end, none of these will end gun violence.”
Both sides of the gun debate have pointed to a surge in gun sales to make their points, with gun control advocates saying the numbers show Californians are able to make the purchases with current regulations in place.
Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, said that shows the state has “struck the right balance.” Perez, himself a gun owner, said the added restrictions on the governor’s desk do not change that.
California gun dealers sold a record 818,000 firearms last year, up roughly 215,000 from the prior year. In the Sacramento region, some 74,000 firearms were sold in 2012.
“Guns sales are going up because they are afraid they eventually are going to be made illegal,” DeLuz said.
Brown largely avoided the national debate about gun control that erupted after the Newtown school shooting, and his record on guns makes it difficult to predict what he will do with any of the bills landing on his desk.
Since taking office in 2011, Brown has signed legislation prohibiting openly carrying unloaded handguns and long guns in public and requiring the registration of rifles.
But he has also spoken proudly about his own gun ownership and has disappointed gun control advocates at times. He vetoed legislation involving ammunition restrictions in 2011, and as state attorney general he sided with the National Rifle Association in a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging Chicago’s handgun ban.