After Orlando, California lawmakers push for action on gun control

Friends of Shane Tomlinson, who was killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting, gather in prayer and remembrances in downtown Orlando on Monday.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

On the eve of key votes on a package of 11 gun control bills, California lawmakers on Monday cited the Orlando massacre as a call for approval of the measures, and opponents of the measures accused the legislators of exploiting a tragedy.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has proposed a gun control initiative for November, said the Orlando attack that killed 49 people and December’s terrorist shooting in San Bernardino that killed 14 are brutal evidence that existing gun laws are not working.

“This is a uniquely horrific tragedy that is unprecedented,” Newsom said Monday. “The fact that this individual allegedly was able to purchase an assault rifle so easily despite being watched by the FBI suggests that our gun laws are wholly inadequate in this country.”

Newsom and Democratic state lawmakers said Congress has failed to act so the states must.

The loss of life in our communities has become unbearable.

— Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael)


“Why are guns that are so dangerous to human life available so easily?” asked Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), one of four legislators at a news conference in San Francisco on Monday. “Yesterday’s tragedy was a call to action. The loss of life in our communities has become unbearable.”

California law bans the sale of AR-15-style assault weapons like the one reportedly in possession of Omar Mateen when he killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 others at a nightclub in Orlando.

However, Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) said the bills scheduled for action Tuesday in legislative committees would close loopholes that allow the sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable ammunition magazines.

Other bills would outlaw the possession of magazines with a capacity of more than 10 bullets and require background checks for people who buy ammunition.

“We want to make sure we have opportunities to grieve right now,” Ting said. “But at the same time we do have an opportunity to take action.”

Newsom’s initiative would also require background checks for ammo purchasers, ban large-capacity magazines and dictate quick removal of firearms from those disqualified from owning them because of a felony conviction or other factor.

Lawrence Keane, a leading advocate for gun owners, accused the legislators of trying to use a horrible tragedy to gain political ground for bad legislation.

“This is just the latest effort by anti-gun politicians to exploit tragedy to extinguish what little remains of the Second Amendment in California,” said Keane, a senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

Tuesday’s hearings are expected to be packed with opponents, including Chuck D. Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Assn., who condemned the violence in Orlando.

“The worst response to attacks like this is to strip law-abiding citizens of their rights and the ability to protect themselves and their families,” Michel said.

The bills pending in the Legislature were introduced in response to the Dec. 2 terrorist attack in San Bernardino. Democratic Assemblymen Rob Bonta of Oakland and David Chiu of San Francisco also said the Orlando mass shooting shows that action is overdue.

“After the tragedies in Newtown, [Conn.] and San Bernardino, our community demanded action, and this week approximately another 50 families will be planning funerals for their loved ones,” Bonta said.

Ting is author of a bill that would expand a year-old law allowing law enforcement and family members to ask a court to issue a restraining order to take guns away from people who they believe are dangerous.

“If Florida had what we have in California, a gun violence restraining order, people could have acted,” Ting said. “What we had [in Orlando] is law enforcement had concerns, this person’s wife had concerns.”

The news conference was also attended by leaders of the gay and Muslim communities who condemned the Orlando shooting, but did not take a position on the pending gun control bills.

Senate leader Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) also urged approval of the gun bills.

There are logical steps we can take to prevent highly destructive weapons from getting into the wrong hands, responsible ways to do it, and we can take action right now,” De León said in a statement Sunday. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough.”

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