All semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines would be banned, all guns would be registered and no ammunition could be bought without a special permit in California under a sweeping list of bills rolled out Thursday by state Senate Democrats.
The 10-bill package constitutes the single largest gun control push in decades in the Golden State, which already boasts some of the nation's strictest gun laws. It joins equally controversial proposals from Assembly Democrats that would regulate and tax ammunition sales and consider taking the state's 166,000 registered assault weapons from their owners.
This first unified California plan comes less than a month after New York adopted its own sweeping package of new gun controls and President Barack Obama announced a package of executive actions, all in the wake of December's Connecticut schoolhouse massacre. Even as this plan emerged Thursday, House Democrats' gun violence task force was announcing 15 "policy principles," including protecting Second Amendment rights but also instituting universal background checks and reinstating a federal assault weapons ban.
"We respect the Second Amendment right of law-abiding citizens to have guns for hunting, for sport, for protecting their homes and families. But loopholes in California's tough gun laws have been exploited long enough," state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said Thursday.
"We can save lives by curbing the
proliferation of guns designed to be fired and reloaded rapidly," he said. "We can save lives by getting guns and ammunition out of the hands of the wrong people. We can save lives if every gun owner knows how to safely handle those guns. And if we can save lives, we must act to do so."
Gene Hoffman of Redwood City, co-founder and chairman of the Calguns Foundation gun rights group, countered that "almost every item in the proposal is wildly unconstitutional." He said the only silver lining is that passing such laws might "accelerate the speed at which the Supreme Court takes these ideas off the table."
Steinberg unveiled the package in a news conference Thursday at the state Capitol, flanked by Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley; Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa; San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee; and police chiefs Chris Magnus of Richmond, Ken James of Emeryville and Sylvia Moir of El Cerrito.
A bill by Steinberg would ban future sale, purchase, making, importing or transfer in California of any semi-automatic rifle that takes a detachable magazine, by adding such guns to the state's list of banned assault weapons. Another Steinberg bill would require ownership records for all guns; California now keeps only handgun and assault weapon records.
Hancock's bill would ban possession -- not just manufacture and sale -- of large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds.
State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has reintroduced a bill to ban "bullet button" kits that let gun owners effectively sidestep the distinction between detachable and fixed magazines for semi-automatic rifles. Another Yee bill would require that guns be properly locked and stored when their owners aren't present, but that bill wasn't included on Steinberg's list Thursday.
That list also included bills that would:
--Require anyone wishing to buy ammunition to first get a permit by passing a background check, as Los Angeles and Sacramento already do.
--Update the definition of a banned shotgun with a revolving cylinder to include the new technology of a shotgun-rifle combination.
--Prevent unregulated gun loans, with some exceptions, including hunting, in order to keep weapons from those who haven't passed background checks.
--Require all handgun owners obtain a safety certificate every year, rather than the every-five-years requirement for purchases of new handguns.
--Prohibit anyone barred from owning a weapon from living in a home where weapons are kept and to expand the list of crimes for which convictions result in being barred from gun possession.
--Let the state Justice Department use money from the state's Dealer's Record of Sale system to eliminate the backlog of people identified as no longer allowed to own guns but not yet investigated and contacted by law enforcement.
Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for the gun rights group Responsible Citizens of California, said it's all "par for the course."
"The violent criminals are simply not going to be affected by any of these proposals," Chang said. "Following the law is the last thing they're going to do, so it's only going to affect law-abiding citizens."
Josh Richman covers politics.
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