SACRAMENTO — Declaring that California already has some of the nation’s toughest gun laws, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday vetoed bills that would have further limited gun ownership and the sale of semiautomatic rifles.
The Democratic governor, a gun owner who hunted in his younger days, said the proposals went too far and would have infringed on the rights of hunters and marksmen without making Californians safer.
Many of the bills had been introduced after last December’s shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed.
Among Brown’s vetoes was a proposal that had been a top target for defeat by the National Rifle Assn. The measure would have banned the future manufacture, import and sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines. It would also have required those who already own such guns to register them.
“The state of California already has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, including bans on military-style assault rifles and high capacity ammunition magazines,” Brown wrote in his veto message.
The state also bans the open carrying of guns in urban areas — a law previously signed by Brown — has a 10-day waiting period for purchasing firearms and requires buyers to undergo a background check.
The governor hewed to the political middle — his frequent path as a moderate — on some gun measures Friday. He approved a ban on hunting with lead bullets, a requirement that rifle owners undergo safety training and a prohibition on assault-weapon permits for businesses and gun clubs.
Guns must be locked up in homes where felons and the mentally ill live, and kits enabling ammunition magazines to hold more than 10 bullets will be outlawed under other bills the governor signed.
“We appreciate that the governor has respected the rights of California gun owners by vetoing many of the anti-gun bills that were on his desk,” said Clint B. Monfort, an attorney representing the NRA.
But he said the group would review the governor’s bill actions to determine which ones may warrant legal action.
Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who introduced the rifle bill, SB 374, said Brown’s veto was unfortunate.
“Since the horrendous mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last December, more than 1,100 Californians have been killed by continuing gun violence,” he said in a statement. “We have missed the opportunity to curb that violence and save more lives.”
Brown said the measure would not do that. “I don’t believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semiautomatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights,” the governor wrote.
Democratic lawmakers have a supermajority they could use to override Brown’s vetoes. But that appears unlikely; Steinberg’s rifle bill passed his own house with a bare majority.
In addition to the Steinberg measure, Brown vetoed a proposed redefinition of prohibited assault rifles to include shotguns with a revolving cylinder. He said that bill, SB 567 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would affect some specialty rifles with “no identified impact on public safety.”
The governor also rejected a plan to require gun owners to report to authorities within seven days of discovering their guns lost or stolen. Brown said the measure, SB 299 by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), was unlikely to change people’s behavior.
And Brown vetoed a bid to bar more people from possessing guns. That measure, introduced out of concern that people who abuse drugs and alcohol may use guns more irresponsibly, would have forbidden some DUI offenders to have guns for a period of 10 years.
“I am not persuaded that it is necessary to prohibit gun ownership on the basis of crimes that are non-felonies, non-violent and do not involve misuse of a firearm,” Brown wrote of SB 755, by Democratic Sen. Lois Wolk of Davis.
But the governor accepted a bill prohibiting gun ownership by people who make serious threats to psychotherapists (AB 1131, by Democratic Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner of Berkeley).
Dr. Paul Song, whose group Courage Campaign advocated for the gun-control bills, said Brown’s vetoes were based on political considerations.
“He should be less concerned about his reelection and more concerned about reducing gun violence,” Song said. “This is the last thing we would’ve expected from a Democratic governor in a state with a Democratic majority.”
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his group is still considering whether to launch recall campaigns against a few lawmakers who voted for the bills.
He noted that last month, Colorado voters recalled two state senators who voted for gun control measures less stringent than those already on the books in California.
Not all of the bills were prompted by the Sandy Hook massacre.
Assemblyman Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) offered the ban on lead bullets because the substance is toxic and could poison animals who eat other creatures shot with the ammunition.
“The risks to California’s incredibly diverse wildlife are many,” Brown agreed in his statement on the measure, AB 711.
The bill won’t take effect until July 2019 and could be blocked if sufficient alternative ammunition is determined to be unavailable.
Chuck Michel of the NRA said finding a legal alternative to lead bullets will be a burden significant enough to reduce hunting, thereby reducing license revenue available for conservation.
Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) voted against the measure. “This bill,” he said Friday, “may effectively destroy time-honored family outdoor gatherings and end a vital component of rural life in California.”