California lawmakers took their first step toward moving a package of gun control bills Tuesday, following tough firearm and ammunition restrictions enacted in several other states in the wake of recent shooting rampages.
As dozens of supporters and opponents — including Del Norte County Sheriff Dean Wilson — packed the Senate Public Safety Committee room for a daylong hearing, Democrats in the state Senate began to use their majority to advance a group of seven bills that would further tighten California’s strict gun laws. The measures were approved on 5-2 party-line votes over Republicans’ objections Tuesday night, and they now will be considered by a second Senate committee.
Wilson told lawmakers he would not enforce weapons restriction laws he deemed unconstitutional, specifically SB 374, which would change the classification of an assault weapon to include semiautomatic rifles that do not have a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept 10 rounds or fewer and force anyone who owned one since 2001 to register the weapon or face criminal charges.
“It’s unconstitutional,” Wilson told the Triplicate on Wednesday. “It is our duty to execute the laws; it is also the duty of the executive branch, whatever laws we do enforce, to ensure that these laws are legal ... just
He added that confiscating someone’s weapon would put Wilson in a position of committing an offense against that person.
“We talk about supreme law, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land,” Wilson said. “It’s not the federal government.”
He said SB 374 would devalue the guns and force citizens to register guns. And while he spoke out specifically against that proposed law in Sacramento, he spoke more generally about gun control Wednesday.
“Government registration of a gun isn’t something the government should get into,” said Wilson. “We don’t need to know if someone has a gun.”
Gun and magazine restrictions would also limit the ability for individuals to protect themselves and property, especially in Del Norte where the response time to outlying areas could be 20-30 minutes, Wilson said.
“If you believe the government is there to save you, you’re sorely mistaken,” said Wilson. “It’s your responsibility to protect your house, your family and your property.”
One of the proposals in Sacramento would prohibit the sale of any semi-automatic rifle that accepts detachable ammunition magazines, prompting activists on both sides of the debate to say the plan goes beyond bans in other states.
“We simply can’t wait until the next tragedy before taking action,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the committee.
Also, bills in the package would:
• Make it more difficult to rapidly reload weapons with high-capacity magazines.
• Add a combination shotgun-rifle to the state’s list of prohibited weapons.
• Require background checks for all gun owners.
• Require ammunition buyers to undergo a background check and get a permit.
• Require more training for gun buyers.
• Add new crimes to those that disqualify California residents from owning weapons.
New York, Connecticut and Colorado have passed restrictions on firearms in response to the recent mass shootings.
The new bills in California are among at least 30 gun control measures introduced in the state this year, and they come as state Assembly members also debate the topic.
The Assembly Public Safety Committee advanced a bill Tuesday that would make it a crime to negligently store a loaded firearm or leave it in a place where a child is likely to access it. Current law makes it a crime only if the child uses the weapon.
The same committee also rejected a pair of gun owners’ rights bills — one that would have made it easier to get a concealed weapons permit and another allowing the open carry of firearms.
Given the makeup of the California Legislature, the Senate gun control package stands a fair chance of becoming law. Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, however, declined comment on the pending legislation.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, author of the bill to outlaw rifles with detachable magazines, said the proposal would close “loopholes and gaps that the manufacturers have exploited” to sell military-style assault weapons in the state.
The Sacramento Democrat estimated that about 355 California residents and 3,300 people nationwide have died from gun violence since the Connecticut elementary school shooting in December.
However, gun rights advocate Jake McGuigan told the committee that few assault weapons are used in homicides in California, citing state Department of Justice statistics.
Steinberg and other supporters acknowledged that California laws can be skirted by those who travel to other states to buy weapons, underscoring their desire for federal gun control legislation. However, Steinberg said, California lawmakers should not wait to take action.
Gun control activist Rick Jacobs echoed the notion at a Capitol news conference before the hearing, saying that California lawmakers are acting, “while unfortunately those folks in Washington are watching.”
Jacobs, chairman of the Courage Campaign, said his group helped collect more than 31,000 signatures backing the gun restrictions.