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Are California's gun laws tough enough? Will the new proposed bills go further in protecting us from tragedy?
According to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence’s website, California holds the top spot in the strength of its gun laws, scoring 81 out a possible 100. But could they be stronger?
There are several bills currently on the docket that would further tighten restrictions on buying, owning and using firearms. Among them: SB 1366, requiring owners to report a lost or stolen gun within 48 hours, AB 2512, which would require gun and ammunition dealers to report sales to any one buyer of more than 1000 rounds of ammo within a five day period, and AB 1527, which extends the “open carry” ban to unloaded long guns.
Executive director of Gun Owners of California, Sam Paredes, says SB 1366 creates a “legal, ethical problem” for law enforcement. For gun owners who do not report their firearms as lost or stolen within the given 48 hours, there would be repercussions.
Legislation and policy co-chair of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Amanda Wilcox, says the first time a gun owner fails to report a lost or stolen firearm, they would be handed a minor infraction, a fine much like a traffic ticket.
But Paredes says it could open up innocent people to possible persecution.
“You’re taking someone who has had a crime committed against them and you are going to make them a criminal if they don’t act in a certain fashion,” Paredes said. He went on to explain that the bill, which is intended to stop straw purchases — firearm purchases made with the intent to resell the gun to someone who cannot purchase the weapon legally themselves — would only create a legal mess for law enforcement. Paredes said if someone were charged with not complying with SB 1366, they could not then later be charged with being a straw buyer.
Wilcox questioned the likelihood of the scenario Paredes laid out.
“The goal of this bill is to collect data to identify and prosecute people who are putting illegal guns into dangerous hands, feeding the illegal market on our streets,” she said.
The requirement to report a lost or stolen weapon is “an investigative tool” intended to help law enforcement identify possible straw buyers, Wilcox said.
“Crime guns do not fall from the sky. Every crime gun starts out as a legal gun and at some point it is diverted into the illegal market,” she said. “We need to find a way to curve that flow of illegal guns and find at what point is it going from a legal gun to an illegal gun in dangerous hands.”
But Paredes argued the bill ostensibly did nothing to stop straw buyers.
“People are trying to come up with solutions to criminal problems with solutions that affect only law-abiding citizens,” he said. “They don’t affect the criminal element at all.”
As for AB 2512, Wilcox argued it was a preventative measure aimed to flag law enforcement to possible problems and assess people who may be unstable or have mental health problems.
Paredes however remained steadfast that the measure put forth — like SB 1366 — did nothing but punish those who legally owned firearms. He instead said it was important to prioritize “crime control” rather than pouring efforts into gun control.
“Gun control has never proven to be a solution for anything,” he said.
A fourth bill targeted an after-market safety device known as a “bullet button,” which slows down the use of certain rifles. Without that upgrade, the guns effectively become assault rifles; SB 249 sought to make the device, and effectively the weapons, illegal. That bill was heavily opposed by California gun owners and died in committee last week, largely due to their lobbying efforts.
Several recent mass shootings have put the issue of gun control front and center in the national debate. While both the Obama and the Romney campaigns have stayed out of the conversation so far, there is pressure from the gun control movement to include the issue in presidential debates.
“These shootings are tragic, horrific events but 32 people are murdered by guns every day,” Wilcox said. “When you look at the vast majority of these murders, can gun laws help? I believe so. But we need national solutions.”
Are California’s gun control laws already tough enough? Can existing laws protect us from tragedies like the recent shooting in Aurora, Colorado, or should they go further? Should citizens have more leeway to arm themselves against such a possibility?
Sam Paredes, executive director, Gun Owners of California
Amanda Wilcox, legislation and policy co-chair, California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence