Nearly 30 years after California became the first state to ban the sale of assault weapons and embarked on a path toward the strictest firearm laws in the nation, legislators have sent Gov. Jerry Brown nine new gun-control bills in response to a surge in mass shootings.
The action by the Legislature was applauded more than 3,000 miles away in Parkland, Fla., where a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 students and employees at a high school in February. Among the legislation waiting approval by Brown are proposals to lift the age for buying rifles and shotguns from 18 to 21, and to prohibit the purchase of more than one long gun a month.
“If we had these bills in place in Florida, then I would not have had to go through this tragedy and lose some of my friends,” said Sari Kaufman, 16, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who is now an activist with Students Demand Action, a part of the national group Everytown for Gun Safety.
“I'm proud to see California pass this kind of legislation, and I hope to see other states follow suit,” she said.
Legislators also approved bills that would create lifetime bans on gun ownership for those convicted of domestic violence or who are involuntarily hospitalized for mental illness twice in a year; make it tougher to be licensed to carry a concealed firearm; and strengthen a law prohibiting multi-burst trigger devices called bump stocks, used in 2017 by a gunman in Las Vegas who killed 58 people and injured hundreds more.
Lawmakers also approved a bill that would allow teachers and employers to petition the courts to have guns confiscated from people who are a danger to themselves and others.
Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said lessons learned after the Parkland shooting helped him draft that bill.
“Prior to February’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, teachers and administrators expressed increasing concern about the gunman’s behavior at school,” Ting said. “We need to give California schools more tools to prevent another campus tragedy.”
Republican lawmakers advocating for gun owners said the proposed laws were an overreaction to isolated incidents that will not reduce gun violence, and will infringe on constitutional rights.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) said during one floor debate that the majority party was engaging in a larger campaign to “disarm the law-abiding.” He was particularly opposed to Ting’s bill.
Nielsen said the proposal raises the possibility that people will seek restraining orders based on bias or “irrational fear” of a co-worker. ”I view this as another attack on our 2nd Amendment rights,” he said.
Sen. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) said he agrees with concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union that the proposal failed to give gun owners a right to first argue their case for keeping firearms to a court.
“This bill poses a significant threat to our civil liberties,” Anderson said.
The bill that would prohibit Californians from buying more than one rifle or shotgun in any 30-day period drew opposition from groups including the National Rifle Assn. and Outdoor Sportsmen's Coalition.
“Firearms ownership by individuals is a constitutionally protected right of all adults,” the coalition said in a statement to lawmakers. “Limiting all adults to a maximum of one rifle or shotgun purchase per month will not solve crime and mental health problems."
A measure sent to the governor that would require those seeking concealed weapon permits to complete at least eight hours of safety classes and pass a live-fire test was denounced by the Firearms Policy Coalition, which advocates for gun owners.
The requirement “casually enacts a burdensome new mandate and then leaves it up to hundreds of different law enforcement agencies to determine how it should be interpreted and applied,” the policy coalition said.
California has the strictest gun laws in the country and has pioneered many rules, becoming the first state to ban assault weapons in 1989 after a shooting at a Stockton elementary school left five students dead.
In 2016, lawmakers expanded restrictions on assault weapons amid public outrage over a terrorist attack a year earlier that left 14 dead and 24 injured in San Bernardino.
Brown, who has acknowledged owning a rifle, has approved stricter rules in the past on assault rifles and large-capacity ammunition magazines, but he vetoed a bill in 2015 that would have barred the purchase of more than one long gun a month.
“Given California's stringent laws restricting gun ownership, I do not believe this additional restriction is needed,” he wrote that year.
During hours of debate by the two legislative houses on the various bills, California legislators specifically credited the student activists from Parkland and elsewhere who marched in Washington, D.C., and at statehouses across the country to demand that more be done to reduce gun violence.
In introducing the bill that would raise the age limit for buying long guns, Sen. Anthony Portantino (D- La Cañada Flintridge) gave credit to the activists such as Sari.
“Out of respect for young people across our country who are demanding action we must answer their plea for help,” he said.
The rifle used in the Parkland shooting is already restricted in California as an assault weapon.
The approval of the age limit bill followed the lead of Florida, which enacted a similar law in March, shortly after the Parkland shooting.
Sari was part of a group of Parkland students who went to the Florida state Capitol in Tallahassee and successfully lobbied legislators to pass the new age limit for gun purchases.
She said she hopes Brown, who is a Democrat, follows the lead of Republican Florida Gov. Rick Scott in enacting stricter gun laws.