State Senate approves sweeping new gun control laws for California

Flowers and American flags honoring the victims of the San Bernardino attack a few days after the assault are placed outside the Inland Regional Center where the fatal shooting took place.
(Nick Ut / Associated Press)

The state Senate on Thursday approved sweeping new restrictions on using guns in California in response to the December mass shooting by two terrorists that left 14 dead in San Bernardino.

Lawmakers approved 11 bills including measures mandating background checks for Californians buying ammunition and outlawing the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines.

The bills, which next go to the Assembly for consideration, represent the most ambitious effort at gun control in decades in California, which already has some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.


Gun bills have traditionally had a harder time in the Assembly, but Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon said this week he is committed to pushing them through. The bills also must pass muster with Gov. Jerry Brown, who has vetoed some gun control measures in the past that he felt were overreaching.

“Gun violence has reached epidemic proportions across our nation,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De León (D-Los Angeles) told his colleagues. He said 30,000 people are killed by guns every year in the United States.

“We cannot stand by while our communities suffer from this horrific violence,” he said. “These proposals take common sense steps to keep weapons and ammunition out of the hands of criminals.”

Republican senators opposed all but one of the bills, arguing that criminals will find a way to get guns and ammunition despite the proposed new laws.

“The criminals will not be affected,” state Sen. Jim Nielsen of Gerber said during the floor debate. “They will not pay any attention to these bills. These bills disarm the law-abiding public.”

State Sen. Ted Gaines (R-Rocklin) called the bills “an assault on our 2nd Amendment rights.”


The measures banning rifles with detachable magazines and requiring background checks for ammo buyers are opposed by the National Rifle Assn., Gun Owners of California and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry.

The prohibition on semiautomatic guns with detachable magazines would result in banning many popular semiautomatic firearms currently legal under California law while doing nothing to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” the foundation said in a statement.

The gun laws rose out of public outrage over the Dec. 2 San Bernardino shootings, which also resulted in a separate gun control initiative by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that is expected to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot.

The massacre shed light on loopholes in California’s 1989 ban on assault rifles.

Two of the bills approved by the Senate would ban the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines as well as semiautomatic, center-fire rifles with “bullet buttons,” a recessed button that, when pressed by a sharp object, allows removal of the magazine.

Those already possessing such guns would have to register them with the state as assault rifles.

State Sen. Isadore Hall (D-Compton) said his bill on “bullet buttons” addresses the kinds of guns used in the San Bernardino shooting. ”These types of firearms have no legitimate use for sport hunters or competitive shooters,” Hall said. “They have been designed to facilitate the maximum destruction of human life.”

Another measure approved Thursday would ban the possession of large-capacity magazines, those holding more than 10 bullets. Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) told her colleagues that large-capacity magazines were found at the scene of the San Bernardino shooting.

“If the shooters had a 10-round magazine, four of [14 victims] would still be alive,” she said.

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) said the bill drew opposition from gun owners contacting his office.

“This represents the incremental beginning of the taking of weapons by government,” he said. Hancock said the bill allows owners to sell the magazines to licensed gun dealers or out of state.

Yet another bill approved Thursday, authored by De León, would require those buying ammunition to present identification, which would be used by the seller to check to make sure the buyer is not a felon or otherwise prohibited from possessing guns.

That bill is supported by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell as a way to make sure criminals do not get ammunition. It passed on a 24-15 vote, with all Republicans opposing it, along with Democratic Sens. Richard Roth of Riverside and Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton.

Stone said the ammo bill would impose “drastic and unjustified restrictions on law-abiding citizens.”

De León said special procedures have been taken to try to get the bills approved by end of June so that Newsom would have the ability to withdraw his initiative, although the lieutenant governor said he is going to the ballot regardless of any legislative action.

Other bills approved Thursday by the Senate would:

-- Require owners of homemade guns to get a serial number for the firearms, register them with the state and undergo a background check.

-- Ask voters in November to reverse a provision of 2014’s Proposition 47 that made thefts of guns worth $950 or less a misdemeanor. The measure would allow felony charges in all gun theft cases. Republicans supported this measure.

-- Mandate that gun owners report lost or stolen firearms to the authorities within five days of discovery that they are missing. Some straw purchasers illegally sell guns and then later claim they were stolen.

-- Limit lending of firearms to specified family members.

-- Establish a Firearm Violence Research Center at one of the University of California campuses to study potential policies to reduce shooting deaths and injuries.

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