Invoking the image of recent mass shootings, Democrats in the state Legislature on Wednesday passed a series of firearms bills designed to reduce the chances for widespread carnage even as opponents warned that the measures would not keep weapons from those intent on committing horrific crimes.
Among other changes, the bills that passed between the Senate and the Assembly would expand the list of people who are prohibited from owning firearms, require permits and a fee when buying ammunition, and ban semi-automatic rifles with detachable ammunition magazines.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who pushed the ban on detachable magazines, said the bills would close loopholes in existing laws, keep firearms away from dangerous people and strengthen requirements for gun ownership.
He said banning rifles that can be reloaded quickly with detachable magazines would not end gun violence, but that it would help.
"How many lives will we save? I would bet many," he said.
Republican lawmakers said repeatedly that the bills did not address the root of the problem — mental instability — and would only hurt law-abiding gun owners if they became law. Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said much of the legislation effectively criminalized legal behavior.
"This will not affect criminals one whit," he said in response to the bill that would require a background check and permit to buy ammunition. "They will get their ammunition. It certainly will disable law-abiding Californians.
The bills were among roughly three dozen that were introduced in the Legislature this year as lawmakers in California and other states sought to respond to the mass shootings in Connecticut and Colorado. Other states, including New York, also have approved tough firearms laws this year.
Lawmakers are acting on hundreds of bills this week as they face a Friday deadline to pass bills from one house to the other, marking the midway point in the year's legislative session. The bills passing the Senate on Wednesday included:
-- SB47, which prohibits so-called bullet buttons and other devices that gun manufacturers use to circumvent the state's assault weapons ban and allow swift reloading. A similar bill, AB48, passed in the Assembly.
-- SB567, which changes the definition of a type of shotgun that is already banned in the state to include a shotgun-rifle combination.
-- SB53, which requires ammunition buyers to get a permit, have a background check and pay a fee.
-- SB396, which bans ammunition magazines over 10 rounds, including those that people already own.
-- SB755, which expands the list of those prohibited from owning weapons to include people convicted of additional drug and alcohol offenses.
-- SB683, which expands the requirement for a firearms safety certificate from handguns to rifle purchases.
-- SB374, which prohibits the sale, purchase, manufacture, importation or transfer of semi-automatic rifles that can accept detachable magazines.
The Assembly passed AB500 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), which requires gun owners to safely store their firearms when someone who lives in the home is prohibited from owning a weapon because of mental illness or a criminal record.
The bill also allows for a seven-day extension on the current 10-day waiting period for weapons purchases if the state Department of Justice needs the extra time to complete a background check and requires dealers to notify the justice department when the buyer has taken possession.
"All components of this bill will keep firearms out of the hands of people who should not have them and ensure our registry system and background checks are working," Ammiano said on the floor.
Republicans opposed the bill, calling it an assault on an individual's right to bear arms. They say the longer waiting periods will become normal.
"The idea that you can deny an individual a right ... because that individual happens to live with someone who is on the armed prohibited persons list, I think is deeply offensive," said Assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks).
He added, "I think that's just flat out un-American."
Other Republican lawmakers, as well as State Sen. Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles), said many of the bills would invite legal challenges on Second Amendment grounds that would cost the state money. Wright, who represents south Los Angeles and opposed the bills, likened a permit system for ammunition purchases to requiring people to register before buying gasoline to put in their vehicle.
He said criminals would always find a way around new restrictions, such as buying ammunition secondhand on the street.