Thursday, April 24, 2014
YOLO COUNTY NEWS
99 CENTS

Lawmakers sense opportunity for Calif. gun control

Don Thompson and Judy Lin

SACRAMENTO — Democratic state lawmakers are sensing an opportunity to pass stricter gun and ammunition laws in California after New York approved the toughest gun-control law in the nation and President Barack Obama proposed the most sweeping attempt to control firearms in nearly two decades.

The president’s plan is consistent with policy recommendations made by UC Davis emergency room doctor and gun violence researcher Garen Wintemute.

Wintemute was not available for comment on Wednesday, but in a Dec. 26 the New England Journal of Medicine opinion piece he argued in favor of broadening background checks, rejecting buyers who have been convicted for a misdemeanor violent crime, and limiting private-party sales, which he said account for about 40 percent of sales.

He also noted that that federal law bans from gun ownership the mentally ill only if they have been judged mentally defective — a restriction he said was too vague to be effective. State-level regulation — like New York’s new toughest-in-the nation gun laws — are insufficient because guns flow easily over state lines, as from Nevada gun shows into California, wrote Wintemute.

The director of the UCD Violence Prevention Research Program, he has also long argued for another step Obama took on Wednesday: reinstating federal funding for gun violence research, which had been shut down by Congress.

The United States is home to 250 to 300 million civilian-owned guns.

“They are not going away anytime soon,” Wintemute wrote in December.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has promised to reintroduce an assault weapons ban this month. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, who will represent Davis in the 113th Congress has said he will support it and a ban on high-capacity magazines.

Another supporter: Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, who until recently represented Davis. The head of House task force on gun violence, he met earlier this week with Vice President Joe Biden.

But the proposals in California, which range from regulating ammunition sales to increasing safety at schools, may not seem so pressing to Gov. Jerry Brown.

California has earned a reputation for being tough on guns. It currently bans the sale of assault rifles and magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said Wednesday the mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school should serve as a catalyst for closing loopholes and limiting access to large numbers of bullets even more.

He expects the Democratic-controlled Legislature to strengthen gun control this year but not match New York’s law.

“There are too many loopholes in California when it comes to our assault weapons ban,” he said.

Steinberg said he will support proposals intended to make it more difficult to obtain devices that allow the rapid fire of dozens of rounds, and to require the reporting of ammunition purchases. He added the state should take more steps to get weapons out of the hands of felons, mentally ill people and others who cannot legally possess them.

“We’re going to make this issue a priority — we have to,” he told reporters in his Capitol office.

One person who remains surprisingly reluctant to chime in to the gun control debate is the Democratic governor. His stance could have implications for any new wave of gun- and ammunition-control proposals.

Brown was asked at a recent news conference if he would discuss gun-control proposals in the Legislature. His response: “No.”

He said he would consider legislation sent his way but noted that California already has strict gun laws and made it clear that he has other priorities.

“I’ve got stuff on water, on high-speed rail, on weighted student formula. I mean, you name it, we got it,” he said.

His office said the governor doesn’t comment on bills until they reach his desk. When asked to comment on the president’s proposal, Brown said he supports federal rules intended to supplement state laws.

Several California lawmakers responded to last month’s shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., with calls for new laws aimed at increasing safety. Among them:

* Democratic Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco submitted a bill that would close loopholes in the state’s ban on assault weapons. SB47 would prohibit the use of so-called bullet buttons and other devices that allow for swift reloading of military-style assault weapons.

* Yee also is carrying SB108, which would require all guns to be properly stored with a trigger lock or in a lock box when the owner is not present. Currently, the state only requires owners to have a trigger lock or safety lock box but doesn’t require the safety device to be used.

* Democratic Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley introduced AB48, which would regulate ammunition sales by requiring sellers to be licensed and buyers to have and show valid identification, similar to those covering gun sales. The bill, co-authored with Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, also would ban clip kits that can convert guns into assault weapons.

* Sen. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from Torrance, re-introduced legislation under SB49, a school-protection measure that would require public schools statewide to prepare and update their emergency response plans in case of an attack.

* Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, announced plans for legislation that would increase restrictions on purchasing ammunition by requiring buyers to get a permit, undergo a background check and pay a fee. No bill number has been announced yet.

Some city leaders are exploring their own measures. For example, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Krekorian this week introduced a motion to study a possible ban on the possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines within city limits. He referenced the North Hollywood shootout 16 years ago, in which two gunmen with high-powered weapons robbed a bank and overwhelmed responding police officers.

Currently, the state only bans the sale of high-capacity magazines. Krekorian said a ban on the possession of such magazines could improve public safety.

While Democratic lawmakers emphasized the ease in buying guns and bullets, Republicans responded to a controversy in upstate New York, in which a suburban newspaper published the addresses of homes with gun permits. They want to protect the privacy of gun owners by prohibiting such information from being disclosed publicly.

Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, and Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, are teaming up on AB132, which would ban counties from releasing the phone numbers and addresses of people holding or applying for concealed weapons permits to the public.

The GOP lawmakers say they want the same protection for permit holders as there is for judges and peace officers. Law enforcement would still have access to personal information.

“I am a supporter of the Second Amendment, public safety, and people’s privacy,” Logue said in a statement Wednesday. “This bill creates a perfect union of responsible gun ownership, protection of people’s private information, and allowing public safety officials to have the tools they need to keep the public safe.”

The Republican proposal is unlikely to receive a receptive audience in the Legislature, where Democrats have two-thirds majorities in both houses.

— Enterprise news service contributed to this report.

The Associated Press

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