Frustrated with Congress’ lack of action on stricter gun control laws, Los Angeles leaders have joined other cities in trying to sidestep Washington by imposing tighter regulations at the local level.
Last week, Los Angeles joined San Francisco and Sunnyvale in banning possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, a move that is meant to reduce the carnage of mass shootings, but that has prompted threats of legal action by gun rights groups.
And on Tuesday the City Council unanimously backed new requirements to lock up or disable handguns in the home. Activists backing the gun storage rules said they would help prevent deadly accidents and teenage suicides by stopping guns from easily falling into the hands of curious children or despairing teenagers.
Los Angeles, long at the forefront of municipal efforts to regulate firearms, has been strongly positioned to embrace such measures because of its liberal, heavily Democratic voter base and large minority populations, which surveys have shown generally favor stronger restrictions on guns, UCLA Law School professor Adam Winkler said.
The shift toward state and local action on gun laws such as those being advanced in Los Angeles “is the biggest change in the gun control movement in a generation,” said Winkler, author of “Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America.” As a result, he said, “the gun control movement has been re-energized in a way that it hasn't been in several decades.”
Councilman Paul Krekorian and other backers of the recent Los Angeles measures said they hope a groundswell of new local laws will build momentum for tougher gun regulation across the country. The proposed gun storage law is “the strongest, most well thought out, most defensible, most important, most significant step forward on safe storage of firearms in the state of California,” Krekorian said.
However, Winkler cautioned that local gun control initiatives “could just as easily face a backlash.” Gun rights groups staunchly oppose Los Angeles’ pending ordinances and have warned that they may challenge them in court, arguing that they violate the 2nd Amendment and are preempted by state law.
Chuck Michel, a senior partner at a firm representing the National Rifle Assn., said authorities are already empowered under state law to bring felony charges against people who improperly store firearms. NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said education and training had successfully driven down the number of fatal accidents.
“So-called safe storage laws have nothing to do with safety, they merely serve as a tool for gun control politicians to disarm law-abiding gun owners,” Baker said in a statement.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said the City Council has no right to dictate how people protected themselves in their own homes, calling the proposed law “absolutely ludicrous.” He and other gun rights activists cited a Supreme Court decision that struck down strict firearm storage requirements in the District of Columbia, deeming them unconstitutional.
Juliet Leftwich, legal director of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said the high court ruling in the Washington, D.C., case was focused specifically on its “unduly broad prohibition,” which included a ban on handgun possession. She noted that this year the Supreme Court chose not to review a lower court decision that let San Francisco’s gun storage law stand.
At City Hall on Tuesday, there was strong agreement among lawmakers that stricter storage rules were needed to reduce accidents by requiring handguns to be stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock when not being carried by the owner.
But lawmakers wrestled over the wording of the proposed rules after the city police union expressed concerns that retired officers would no longer have swift access to their weapons. In reaction, council members opted for revised rules and allow firearms to be unlocked when the owner has them close enough to be readily retrieved.
Without that sort of leeway for gun owners, “it defeats the ability to immediately protect family and home,” LAPD Deputy Chief Kirk J. Albanese said.
Gun control activists who championed the storage rules said they were comfortable with the changes because City Council members added language clarifying that unlocked guns would have to be under the control of the owner.
However, dissent quickly emerged over how the rules might apply to everyday situations. Margot Bennett, executive director of Women Against Gun Violence , said having a handgun under your control “means you can’t be sleeping with a loaded gun on your nightstand.”
But Los Angeles Police Protective League Director Peter Repovich said he thought that having a gun readily available in that manner would be permitted. City lawyers were not immediately able to clarify. The city attorney’s office is still reviewing the requested language, said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for City Atty. Mike Feuer.
Under the proposed law, Angelenos who violate the rules could face a misdemeanor charge. Police won’t be conducting home inspections to see how guns are stored, Krekorian said, but they could come across violations when responding to other calls. In Sunnyvale, which adopted gun storage rules similar to Los Angeles’ regulations in 2013, no one has been prosecuted for a violation thus far, according to its city manager's office.
Because of the late revisions to Los Angeles’ plan, the final wording of the proposed law must come back before city lawmakers for their approval.
Meanwhile, the City Council continues to weigh a possible exemption from the pending ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines. The ban is expected to take effect in a little more than a month. Proposed by Councilman Mitch Englander, the exemption would apply to retired police officers with permits to carry concealed weapons. Police and their city union say former officers should be equipped to face any threat to protect the public, dubbing them a “force multiplier.”
“When something happens in a theater, who’s the guy that stands up to take the suspect out, preventing other lives from being lost?” Repovich told council members Tuesday.
Gun control advocates are fighting the effort to exclude retired officers from the rule. Feuer also has raised concerns.
In a confidential report obtained by The Times, Feuer warned lawmakers that adding such an exemption to the magazine ban would present “significant legal risk” because it would be hard to show that it was “rationally related to a legitimate state interest.” The City Council split over whether to draft a proposed exemption, voting 10 to 4 to ask city lawyers to prepare ordinance language to be considered by a committee at a later date.