Californians weighing how to vote on the gun controls in Proposition 63 may find themselves experiencing déjà vu.
Some key issues addressed in the initiative by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, including background checks for those buying bullets and a ban on high capacity magazines, have also been tackled in bills approved this summer by the state Legislature in high-profile actions. That has caused confusion among voters and led some law enforcement groups to oppose the initiative because they prefer the laws already approved by the Legislature.
Newsom, who is a candidate for governor in 2018, said his initiative is an improvement over what the Legislature did because it plugs loopholes in the new laws and addresses issues not tackled by legislation.
“I'm fighting to pass Prop. 63 because it will, without question, reduce gun violence and save lives,” Newsom said.
Both the legislation and the initiative require background checks for those buying ammunition, but in distinctly different ways that have divided gun control advocates.
The legislation signed by the governor requires people buying ammunition in California to provide an ID card and have their background instantly checked against an existing database of those prohibited from possessing firearms. That would begin in Jan. 1, 2019, and the check would cost $1 each time ammunition is purchased.
Proposition 63 proposes a different process, in which persons who want to buy ammunition would obtain a four-year permit from the state Department of Justice, which would have 30 days to approve it based on a background check. Applicants would have to pay a fee of up to $50 and provide a fingerprint and other identifying information that would be kept in a new database.
Once a permit is granted, it needs to be shown each time ammo is purchased.
The Legislature included a provision requiring its system to be used, even if Proposition 63 passes, but that issue could end up in court, according to Sean Brady, an attorney for the campaign against Proposition 63.
“I suspect that Prop. 63 would control if the law is applied faithfully,” he said.
Gun rights advocates did not support much of what the Legislature did this year, but they feel the initiative would be even worse, said Brady, counsel for the Coalition for Civil Liberties.
“From the gun rights perspective, Proposition 63 threatens to replace the scheme that the Legislature put in place with a more costly, less efficient system that is more onerous for the ammunition purchasers,” Brady said.
Another distinction that gun owners oppose: Both the legislation and initiative outlaw ammunition magazines that carry more than 10 rounds, but the new law makes violations an infraction while the initiative allows filing an infraction or a misdemeanor, with tougher penalties.
Dan Newman, a spokesman for the Proposition 63 campaign, said the initiative is better because it extends the requirement for background checks to ammunition sellers, including gun store employees.
“Why would making limited progress on the same issue stop people from fighting for much more significant progress?” Newman asked.
The difference in backgrounding requirements also has spawned opposition to Proposition 63 from some law enforcement groups, including the California State Sheriffs Assn., the California Correctional Peace Officers Assn and California Police Chiefs Assn.
Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, president of the chiefs’ group, said law enforcement worked with lawmakers to make the new system from the Legislature workable. It includes exemptions for retired law enforcement officers, animal control officers, concealed weapon permit holders and others.
The initiative only exempts current law enforcement officers allowed to carry a gun. The legislation did not mandate that its broader exemptions would supersede Proposition 63, so the initiative’s narrower exemptions would apply if it passes.
“Unfortunately, Proposition 63 … undoes many of the quality laws that CPCA helped enact,” Corney said in a statement.
He objected that the initiative creates a new, “duplicative” database of information on those who get permits to buy ammunition. He also said it could make it harder for agencies to buy ammunition from out of state.
Law enforcement officials also have concerns about Proposition 63’s requirement that local law enforcement agencies would have to collect firearms from newly convicted felons. The chiefs supported giving money to the state Department of Justice to send specially trained state agents in large numbers to collect guns from felons.
“Instead, the process established by Proposition 63 creates a safety risk for local law enforcement officers by requiring them to repossess firearms from potentially dangerous individuals,” Corney said.
Newsom said that by getting the courts to require relinquishment of firearms before felons are sentenced, his initiative provides additional leverage to get guns out of dangerous hands.
That provision has not been acted on by the Legislature.
Other provisions in the ballot measure that were not enacted by the Legislature include:
— California authorities would be required to share information with the FBI about dangerous people who are ineligible to possess guns so it can be included in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database. That proposal, not considered by lawmakers, would block California felons from getting guns in other states.
– Businesses that sell ammunition are mandated to report if their ammunition is lost or stolen. That also was not considered by lawmakers.
– The theft of a firearm would become a felony, increasing the maximum prison sentence from one to three years and making the person convicted ineligible to carry a gun for 10 years. That fixes a problem caused by Proposition 47, which was approved by voters in 2014 and said theft of any item worth $950 or less would be a misdemeanor.
— Gun owners would be required to notify law enforcement within five days of the time they knew or reasonably should have known their gun is missing. That provision, which would take effect July 1, 2017, is aimed at keeping weapons out of the hands of criminals.
Newsom noted in a speech last week that 11 other states have enacted the requirement that stolen guns be reported.
“There have been legislative attempts [in California] and they have failed multiple times here in the Capitol,” Newsom told the Sacramento Press Club.
The Legislature did approve such a bill this year, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in July.
“I vetoed similar measures in 2012 and 2013 because I did not believe that a measure of this type would help identify gun traffickers or enable law enforcement to disarm people prohibited from having guns,” Brown wrote in his veto message.
Brown also vetoed a bill that would have put a separate initiative on the ballot to deal with the Proposition 47 issue, noting Newsom’s measure had already qualified and there was no need for two initiatives.
Supporters of the initiative, including Newman, say it merits approval by voters.
“Anyone who sincerely thinks gun violence is a problem won't hesitate to support Prop. 63 — particularly those who previously supported the initiative’s policies that failed to make it through the legislative process,” he said.
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