California legislators move to tighten gun laws

California legislators move to tighten gun laws
© Getty Images

California legislators passed a dozen new restrictions on gun purchases and access in the waning hours of this year’s legislative session, amassing what is likely to be the most ambitious effort by any state to combat mass shootings and suicides using firearms.

Many of the votes, especially on measures aimed at reducing the risk of suicide and increasing access to mental health services, passed on unanimous or nearly unanimous votes.

ADVERTISEMENT

Others, including several bills aimed at limiting the number of people who could purchase long guns, like those used in several recent mass shootings, passed on more party-line votes. Democrats, who voted in favor of the new restrictions, hold supermajorities in both the state Assembly and the state Senate.

The bills, along with hundreds of others passed in the final days before the legislature adjourned for the fall, now go to Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) desk for a signature or a veto. Brown has not said how he will act on the bills, but he has signed most gun control measures that have made it through the legislature in recent years.

Brown’s office declined to comment on whether he would sign the measures that have reached his desk. Brown typically signs dozens of measures each day in the weeks after the legislature closes.

Several legislators said they had been moved by lobbying from students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Parkland, Fla., school where a gunman killed 17 students and staff members on Feb. 14.

“Listening to the Stoneman Douglas students and the parents, there was a plea there for us to step up,” said state Sen. Anthony Portantino (D).

Portantino sponsored two of the most controversial bills: One would limit gun sales to those under 21 years of age, with an exception for those who receive firearms as a gift from their parents. The second would limit gun purchases to one per month, eliminating bulk purchases.

State law applies both limits to handguns already. The new laws would expand those limits to include long guns like rifles and shotguns.

Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said the legislature’s priorities were misguided.

“Rather than focus on the criminal misuse of firearms, the California legislature continues to focus on passing legislation that limits the rights of law-abiding Californians,” Hunter said.

Portantino said the measures were aimed at preventing weapons from falling into the hands of those who might want to harm themselves or others, both through purchases and through illegal sales on secondary markets. He pointed to exceptions he said would exempt sportsmen and law enforcement.

“We’re not trying to go after the hunter, we’re not trying to go after the soldier, the police officer,” he said. “We’re saying for those young people that don’t have training, [guns] shouldn’t be so easily accessible where so much mayhem could result.”

Another bill passed nearly along party lines, authored by Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D), would require anyone obtaining a concealed weapons permit to undergo at least eight hours of instruction, including live-fire training. 

The legislature also passed a bill to close the so-called boyfriend loophole, expanding the number of people convicted of domestic violence crimes who would be barred from obtaining firearms. Another bill would ban those convicted of domestic violence from owning a firearm for life, rather than the ten years current law allows. And a third bill would ban the sale of “bump stocks,” an accessory that increases the rate of fire for certain weapons.

Several measures aimed at preventing suicides — including new training for therapists and social workers, a voluntary do-not-sell list and a bill to extend the period under which someone admitted to a psychiatric facility because they are a risk to themselves or others would be barred from buying a gun — passed with broad support from Democrats and Republicans.

Gun control advocates applauded the new measures, though they said there is more work to be done. Ari Freilich, the California legislative affairs director at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the legislature failed to pass measures banning “ghost guns,” untraceable firearms made from blueprints sold online, and that this year’s budget did not fund research into violence prevention programs.

“It was pretty clear that California legislators know their constituents are demanding continued leadership and action on the issue,” Freilich said in an email. “There is absolutely significant work still to be done.”

California already has one of the strictest gun control regimes in the country. It is the only state that earns an A rating from the Giffords Law Center, which tracks gun laws in state capitals.

Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Maryland all score A-minus ratings from the Giffords Center.