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Tuesday, May 21, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Terror Attack Put Californians|Behind Sweeping Gun-Control Initiative

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — In the aftermath of the 2015 San Bernardino terrorist attack which devastated the working-class Southern California community, Golden state lawmakers revitalized a longstanding gun-control debate.

Backed by public polling and overwhelming support in many of California's most populated districts, California Democrats responded quickly to the tragic mass shooting and proposed a barrage of new gun bills that were eventually inked by Gov. Jerry Brown.

While Brown approved more than a dozen of the Democrats' stringent measures, he vetoed several others saying it should be up to voters to decide the practicality of the new laws.

Despite already having the nation's strictest gun laws, California voters on Nov. 8 will have the chance to approve a sweeping measure that expands and builds on some of the Legislature's new laws.

Led by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a host of California political heavyweights, Proposition 63 introduces background checks for ammunition purchases, outlaws magazines holding more than 10 rounds and makes the theft of a firearm a felony.

Newsom, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, united with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to craft the broad measure addressing seven firearm-related issues. He's urging voters to join him in "taking on the National Rifle Association."

"I'll say this to the NRA. You can intimidate politicians, we've seen that. Hell, you've been effective. But you can't intimidate the public," Newsom proclaims in an advertisement.

The headline of Newsom's proposition is a mandate of background checks for ammunition purchases. Buyers would need to pay up to $50 for a permit and register with the state every four years in order to buy bullets, and pay a transaction fee for each purchase to fund the background check system.

Retailers selling more than 500 rounds per month would also have to register with the state, report missing ammunition within 48 hours and conduct background checks on their employees.

The proposition's ammunition clause is similar to a bill Brown signed in July, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. Rather than stash his bill and allow voters to decide on Proposition 63, de Leon pushed forward with Senate Bill 1235.

After Newsom's gun-control measure qualified, de Leon shrewdly amended his version to ensure that if both competing measures passed, SB 1235 would become law.

Newsom's camp called de Leon's move "sickeningly cynical" and accused the state senator of holding "petty personal grudges."

While two of the state's most powerful Democrats were squabbling, Newsom's measure continued to gain steam over the summer.

Former Facebook president Sean Parker donated to Proposition 63, and Barbra Streisand also declared support for the measure. U.S Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein are proponents of stricter gun laws as well.

Julie Leftwich, legal director at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says Proposition 63 goes further than the recently approved bills and will help regulators track who is buying and selling bullets.

"Currently the state of California has no idea who is buying or selling ammunition. It's a huge loophole in our laws because obviously a gun can't hurt anyone unless it has ammunition; ammunition is the deadly component," Leftwich said in a phone interview.

Leftwich, who helped found the law center following a 1993 San Francisco mass shooting that killed eight, says passing the proposition acts as a backup for two laws passed by de Leon and state Sen. Loni Hancock. While legislators often repeal and amend state laws, overriding an approved ballot measure is a much more difficult undertaking.

"It's important to have those legislative policies baked into the initiative process so they can't be repealed by a subsequent Legislature," Leftwich said.

On the other side of the debate are California gun owners fed up with their Legislature's focus on firearms. Opponents claim Newsom's plan will criminalize gun owners by forcing them to turn in outlawed magazines, and cost taxpayers millions without reducing gun violence.

The Coalition for Civil Liberties warns of "house-to-house confiscation of private property" with regulators eager to seize magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

The coalition and the NRA did not respond to Courthouse News' interview requests.

"Take away our rights, take away our life," states a No on 63 campaign advertisement.

Leftwich debunked the home intrusion scenario, saying that owners of high-capacity magazines will have the opportunity to sell their property. Proposition 63 sunsets a 2000 grandfather clause that allowed owners to keep magazines holding more than 10 rounds when the state officially banned them.

"They have options. People can sell them if they want to or remove them from the state. The government isn't taking anything without compensation," Leftwich reiterated.

An Olympic medalist has joined the NRA and others in opposing Proposition 63, targeting Newsom in a recent testy Twitter exchange. Skeet shooter Kim Rhode took aim at Newsom in September, likening him to a "self-serving politician" and tweeted that she would be happy to "teach [Newsom] about the guns and ammo you don't trust me to own."

The gun-control critic has also appeared in No campaign ads, calling the proposition harsh and restrictive to law-abiding Californians. The six-time medalist opposes the proposition's restrictions on bringing ammunition from outside the state and mandatory ammunition background checks.

As funding for California's 17 statewide November ballot propositions has cleared $450 million — a state record - the donors for and against Proposition 63 have been relatively quiet.

Proponents have raised more than $5 million, with major donations from the California Democratic Party, Newsom and Parker. The opponents have raised $742,000, with the NRA contributing just $95,000.

With Congress routinely "strangled by the gun lobby," Leftwich hopes Californians will set an example for the rest of the nation and pass the sweeping gun-control initiative.

"Nationally, many gun laws are so weak that they don't even have the most fundamental policies, such as universal background checks," Leftwich said.

Voters in Nevada and Maine are set to vote on background checks for gun purchases on Nov. 8.

"They have a ways to go before they catch up to California, but we hope to provide a strong model for other states and the federal government someday hopefully," Leftwich added.

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