Editorial

Proposition 63 would add to the state’s already robust gun control laws

California, to its credit, has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country. And they got a bit tougher this summer after Gov. Jerry Brown signed six bills which, among other things, required instant background checks for people seeking to buy ammunition, banned most people from owning high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges and barred “bullet buttons” that make it easier to reload semi-automatic rifles. Now, with Proposition 63, voters have the opportunity to impose additional restrictions. Despite a few niggling concerns, we encourage a yes vote on Proposition 63 to send a loud and clear message to the pro-gun lobby that California voters want more, not fewer, limits on access to firearms.

Why more limits? Some 70% of California homicides are committed with firearms, and two-thirds of California suicides come at the end of a gun. National studies show that people with access to guns are three times more likely to commit suicide and twice as likely to be the victim of violence. Studies have also found that women in households where guns are present are three time more likely to be killed by an intimate partner. If we want a safer country, the answer is not, as the NRA argues, to make more guns more readily available; it is to reduce their presence.

Perhaps the most significant element of Proposition 63 is its requirement that people who lose their eligibility to have a firearm (due to a felony conviction, domestic violence restraining order or other legal restriction) actually get rid of them. The measure requires judges to inform those who are ineligible that they can no longer legally possess a firearm, and it directs probation officers to report to the court whether the person has sold the weapon, given it away, stored it with a firearms dealer or turned it over to an identified trustee or to law enforcement. Currently there is no such system, and the state attorney general’s office has struggled to remove firearms from those newly ineligible to own them. The backlog of such cases stands at fewer than 11,000, down from more than 20,000 in early 2013.

Proposition 63 also would require the attorney general to submit names of newly ineligible people to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The office currently does that voluntarily, but now it would be mandatory. 

Under the initiative, if a person notices — or reasonably should have noticed — that one of his or her guns gun is missing, the lost or stolen weapon must be reported within five days. The intent, in part, is to crack down on people who legally buy a firearm on behalf of a prohibited person, and when discovered, claim the gun was lost or stolen; under this provision, if they tried to make such a claim, they could be charged with a crime for having failed to report the loss. Brown has vetoed similar laws, arguing that they would be ineffective. Maybe, but the reporting requirement wouldn’t hurt or be burdensome and is worth enacting.

Opponents’ main concern with Proposition 63 is its requirement that before buying ammunition, people must obtain a four-year permit verifying they are not barred from owning a firearm. But while it’s true that the permit could take up to 30 days to process, the initiative would allow current gun owners to apply six months before it goes into effect after July 1, 2019. And new gun owners would be given a 30-day temporary permit to buy ammunition while they wait for their four-year permit to be processed. That’s hardly a burden. Besides, that aspect of the initiative may turn out to be moot under the law recently signed by Brown requiring a simple background check, much like those for gun sales, before an ammunition sale. In a bit of legalistic improvisation, that law “pre-amended” Proposition 63’s permit requirement. Whether the pre-amendment would survive a court challenge is unclear, but the intent, and effect, of both is welcome by making it harder for those who don’t legally own a gun to buy rounds for it.

Because Proposition 63 is an initiative, it can only be repealed through another initiative. But it allows the legislature, with a 55% majority, to tweak the details as long as the changes are in keeping with the intent of the law, which is a welcome bit of flexibility (and which led to the so-called pre-amendment).

Proposition 63 takes California farther down the path of meaningful, reasonable gun control. It deserves your vote.

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