As you may or may not be aware, the state of California increasingly seems to think of itself as a place possibly located outside the bounds of the United States as its people and its governor favor laws that place it in conflict with the federal government and the U.S. Constitution.
The fact that Hillary Clinton’s margin of the popular vote could solely be attributed to voters in California doesn’t help matters, either. (If you subtract California voters, President-elect Donald Trump would have won the national popular vote, in addition to the electoral vote.)
While it’s possible to discuss this phenomenon as it relates to many different types of laws including marijuana legalization and climate change, in this post, we’ll take a look at gun ownership regulations in the Golden State.
Recently, gun owners in California and the National Rifle Association (NRA) have been outraged by six new gun bills supported and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown. When signing the bills, Brown sarcastically wrote that his intentions were “to enhance public safety by tightening our existing laws in a responsible and focused manner while protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners.” To say that the bills fall more on the side of the former than the latter would be an understatement.
These laws, which take effect in January 2017, mandate the following:
- California Can Confiscate High-Capacity Magazines
Any magazines holding more than 10 bullets will be deemed illegal and will be subject to seizure if the government is aware that an owner has them in their possession. Current owners must turn in such magazines to state authorities.
- All Ammunition Sales Will Be Recorded and Require Identification and a Background Check
Anyone selling ammunition must be licensed to do so, and all ammunition sales must be reported to the state. Purchasing ammunition for any firearm in any quantity will subject buyers to an ID and background check. All gun sales in California already mandate background checks. Of course, criminals are not subject to such checks — only law-abiding citizens are.
- No Guns Will Be Allowed to Be Sold with a “Bullet Button”
In the future, guns with so-called “bullet buttons” — which enable spent magazines to be quickly ejected and new magazines to be inserted in a fluid motion using a small tool or the tip of a bullet — will be made illegal. Guns that already have the devices in place will still be legal to possess — as long as owners register them with state authorities as “assault weapons” within one year of the law taking effect. No new firearms with this feature will be allowed to be sold in California.
- Penalties for False Stolen Gun Reports Will Be Increased
In the past, straw purchasers could buy guns on behalf of another person then claim the weapons had been stolen. Now, filing a false police report about a stolen gun will be considered a misdemeanor. In addition, the original purchaser would be prohibited from buying another firearm for 10 years.
- Background Checks Will Be Required for Gun Loans
If a gun is loaned to someone besides a close relative of its owner, background checks, fees and waiting periods for both persons would be required (upon the loan and the return of the weapon).
- All Semi-Automatic Rifles Will Be Considered “Assault Weapons”
California will reclassify all legal semiautomatic rifles as “assault weapons” under the new legislation. The laws would cover hundreds of thousands of existing guns.
Sam Paredes, the executive director of Gun Owners of California (GOC) is worried that these laws may simply be a prelude to a total ban on all semi-automatic rifles in the state.
“These laws are the tip of the iceberg here in California. We expect they are going to introduce legislation to totally ban semi-automatic long guns in California. They will do this because they know we will come up with a new way to beat their latest ban — the ‘bullet button’ ban — if given time.”
For now, firearms officially classified as “assault weapons” that were purchased prior to January 23, 2001 can be legally possessed by their owners. Paredes hinted at additional laws that may be upcoming, adding, “They had a bill for [the bullet button ban] last year that we were able to kill. We think they will bring it up again and they will also introduce legislation to put in place a one-gun-per-month of any kind purchase limit. [Currently, California has such a limit for handguns only.] This limit will apply whether it’s a handgun or a long gun in order to try to slow down the sales of guns in California.”
Already in 2016, California has laws in place that allow police to seize firearms from legitimate owners who represent “a threat based on accounts from the family or police,” according to Pasadena news station KPCC. These Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVROs) allow police to seize and hold weapons legally for 21 days if a family member, police officer or a licensed therapist believes the person in question possesses a threat to themselves or others. Third parties can file GVROs without the knowledge of the person in question, and the firearms in all cases can be seized without notice.
“The law gives us a vehicle to cause the person to surrender their weapons — to have a timeout, if you will,” said Michael Moore, an assistant police chief of Los Angeles. “It allows further examination of the person’s mental state.”
The person the GVRO applies to has the option to challenge a judge’s decision after 21 days have passed. “It’s a short duration, and it allows for due process,” stated Moore. GVROs are similar to typical domestic violence restraining orders. Like those orders, they would be made part of a person’s public criminal profile. (California already disallows the possession of firearms for people who have committed violent crimes or who have been placed in mental health facilities.)
Even the typically liberal American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) objected to the measure, claiming that it “creates significant potential for civil rights violations… An ex-parte order means the person subjected to the restraining order is not informed of the court proceeding and therefore has no opportunity to appear to contest the allegations.”
These laws are in addition to a state law mandating a 10-day waiting period between the time a person purchases a firearm and the time they can take possession of it. This latter law was successfully challenged by the Second Amendment Foundation in 2011, but a 2014 ruling on it by federal authorities was recently overturned by Ninth Circuit Court Judge Mary M. Schroeder, who, like other liberal justices, referred to the 10-day delay as a sufficient “cooling-off period.”
The state of Florida currently has a three-day period in place, but that didn’t stop Orlando shooter Omar Mateen, who committed the worst mass shooting in American history after waiting the requisite three days to acquire his weapon.
Those who need weapons for self-defense are often put at risk by this waiting period; in 2015 in the state of New Jersey, domestic abuse victim Carol Bowne was stabbed to death by her former boyfriend — a convicted felon — whom she had filed a restraining order against while waiting to receive a handgun she had purchased.
In the face of the new laws, California gun sales — especially of AR-15- and AK-47-based models — skyrocketed after the legislation was signed in July. Sales slowed for a brief period, but in December, Terry McGuire, the owner of the Get Loaded gun store in San Bernardino, reported, “we have people lined up out the door and around the block” as buyers rush to beat the laws’ enactment date of New Year’s Day.
Not all legislators were in favor of the bills. GOP State Assemblywoman Shannon Grove of Bakersfield said, “You want to blame something you can control, but you can’t control murder; you can’t control insanity.”
The NRA issued a statement that said, “It’s been a shameful process to watch. The bills hold a common theme: [applying] restrictions on the law-abiding citizens of California while doing nothing to reduce criminal behavior.”
Gun owners who oppose the measures should organize and write to their state representatives about their feelings on the laws; nationally speaking, they set a bad precedent for other states that may be considering similar legislation.