Gun Control

California Lt. Gov. Takes Detour on Pot, Embraces More Gun Control

Triggers coming gun fight.


Perhaps it's a sign of the lopsided (and strange) nature of California politics, but Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a 2018 gubernatorial candidate, had been building a slight following among some libertarians and even conservatives because of his stances on some "freedom" issues. This caught the eye of Huffington Post, which published an article last year with the snarky headline, "The Right's Strange New Hero: Gavin Newsom."

The focus of the HuffPo piece was Newsom's book, Citizenville, which took aim at "top-down bureaucratic government." That's "choking our democracy," he said, as he called for people to "look to themselves for solving problems rather than asking the government to do things for them." That represents a philosophical break from most Sacramento Democrats, who are more intent on creating new state programs and regulations.

On a more substantive level, Newsom played a lead role in the state's "Pathways Report," which plotted a course for the eventual legalization of marijuana. After interviewing him last summer, I was struck by his willingness to wrestle with tough choices and take on some powerful interest groups. Yet I sensed some reticence toward legalization, after he said he was less inclined to support legalization than before he started the Pathways effort.

That statement was apparently a precursor to his recent announcement. Newsom has proposed a new gun-control initiative that will take most of his time as we head toward the November 2016 general election. As the San Francisco Chronicle's Matier & Ross reported last week, Newsom is putting "legalizing pot on the back burner" as he spends his limited time pushing for new restrictions on guns and ammo sales.

Newsom and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence have yet to release the language of the proposed statewide initiative, but the group has announced the basic parameters of the proposal. It would prohibit the possession of large-capacity magazines – thus forcing the owners to surrender something they had acquired legally.

As the law center explains, "The initiative requires licensing of ammunition vendors and point-of-sale background checks for ammunition purchases…California would be the first state to require ammunition background checks at the point of sale." Currently, firearms owners can purchase ammo the way they purchase any other legal product.

The initiative would also enhance the state's Armed Prohibited Persons System, which gives the state attorney general the power to go to people's homes and confiscate weapons they acquired legally, but which they no longer are legally allowed to own (after, for instance, a restraining order or conviction for a crime). Republican legislators had been chiding Attorney General Kamala Harris for not being aggressive enough in confiscating such guns – even though reports suggest the list is wildly inaccurate and leads to mistaken confiscations.

It also has a couple of mostly noncontroversial elements – requiring owners of lost or stolen handguns to report that they went missing and a process for better sharing data with the feds.

The initiative seems to be a grab bag of recent legislation that has failed to make it into law. Newsom's critics—especially gun-rights supporters—accuse him of simply taking a poll-tested position that's likely to enhance his gubernatorial fund-raising and his political profile. Lieutenant governor comes with an impressive title but little else (as long as the real governor hasn't left the state or the country for, say, a global-warming symposium).

Newsom certainly likes to embrace big, social issues and build his profile around them. He was on the cutting edge of the gay marriage debate, when he embraced the cause more than a decade ago. He seemed to be doing the same thing with marijuana legalization, but seems to have lost interest in that issue even as the public is moving in his direction.

While the gay marriage and marijuana-legalization efforts pushed the state in a freer direction, the gun-control proposals will reduce the ability of individuals to own guns and ammo—and it will mean more centralized bureaucratic control. That's a far cry from the core idea detailed in Citizenville. And it should put a damper on any thoughts that Newsom might become the best hope limited-government advocates have for the next governor.

NEXT: Matt Welch and Donald Trump on the Same Episode of Red Eye w/ Tom Shillhue

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  1. Anyone who thought Newsom was a small government/maximum personal freedom kind of guy is an absolute fool. On some issues he may appear to be so but, obviously, his motivation for being so is radically different from a Libertarian’s.

    1. Some of us hoped he would be so busy riding the marijuana legalization tiger that he wouldn’t have time for more intrusive attention-grabbers. Sadly we were mistaken.

      1. Let me expand upon that. Every company sooner or later loses their startup initiative and trots out a rehash of a proven product instead of continuing to break fresh ground, primarily because they don’t want to undermine their existing product line sales, but also because running the same business gets boring and leads to new management which enjoys boring, or turns current management into boring old management.

        This is the most depressing part of Newsom’s switch. Sure he was a Democrat statist enamored of big government. But he was as close as the Democrats would ever get to Ron Paul style breath of fresh air. And now he’s taken the stodgy style of rehashing old issues instead of breaking fresh ground.

        1. Interesting take and I apologize for calling you a fool in an offhand way. It just seems that virtually every time a politician is held up as an example to give hope to Libertarians they go and do something like this. Then again, it was Huffpo that published the above mentioned article so I can only assume they were upset that Newsom is somewhere to the right of Trotsky.

          1. I am an eternal optimist. For some reason, 50 years exposure to politicians and bureaucrats has not crushed my long term optimism. I ought to learn from experiences like this, but I also ought to have learned from all the previous experiences. For some reason I keep hoping!

            Maybe it’s because since the printing press, the trend has been towards decentralizing government and power, no doubt in large part because the increasing distribution of information makes it harder and harder for governments to keep the peoplios misinformed.

            1. You are right about the overall, general trend towards liberty, but California has a very high concentration of progressive/leftist voters gerrymandered into near-permanent positioning. The California Democrats can let their authoritarian tendencies show freely without fear–they have no viable challengers.

              You can’t remain an optimist about California’s politics any longer. Whatever happened to lock Calif. in one-party rule over the last three decades is likely to last until the state crashes and burns, no different than Illinois, Chicago, and Detroit are experiencing now.

              You CAN remain an optimist at a general, 10,000ft level, but not about California… In other words, do not miss the trees for the forest–there is a special localized distortion going on in California that is on a decidedly downward trend.

              1. I am also quite optimistic about my chances for remaining an optimist, even about California, in spite of your statist-like denial:

                You can’t remain an optimist about California’s politics any longer.

          2. I suggest not looking for ‘libertarian’ politicians. I doubt such an animal exists, at least not in significant elected office. Focus on the issues.

    2. GREAT! As the owner of a Nevada gun store that means all of these yokels from California will be able to kill two birds with one stone. Every Friday they stream across the border on their way to Vegas to gamble. Now they’ll be able to take care of their sell-protection needs in Vegas, hopefully at my store. And soon they’ll be able to take care of their marijuana needs here too. It’s exciting, isn’t it?

      Thank God California voters are so stupid. (Did I just say that out loud?)

      I heard the local Chamber of Commerce in Vegas is getting ready to present some kind of award to the state of California for exporting all of that business to my state. You just have to love socialism, don’t you?

      1. That’s what I thought when I read this. More Californians will buy in Arizona and Nevada. Meanwhile, crazy Californians will somehow think limiting ammo will make this shitholes of LA and San Fran safer.

    3. Marijuana legalization thus far has largely been a vehicle for more government intrusion through regulation in WA and CO. Which is what it’s really about for these people. And that’s what all of this is really about, government control. Any additional ‘freedom’ is just a loss leader for more taxes and regulations.

  2. If background checks were instant say within 15 minutes and it only stated that you could buy ammo and guns and nothing else and then was erased immediately I would be okay with that part only. that said none of this will stop crime and only harm law abiding gun owners so F it.

    1. If guns were outlawed, there wouldn’t be any law-abiding gun owners. Problem solved.

    2. I bought an AR-15 this morning. It took me longer to fill out the 4473 than it did to run the background check. The checks are instant, the FFL gives your name to in my case FDLE, FDLE runs my name, and pops out an approved, disapproved or hold. Easy peasy.

  3. I live in CA, and alas, I think this initiative has at least a reasonable chance of passing. I read everything I could about it (not sure why Reason thinks the prop language is not yet available, I found it here).

    Since I reload my own ammunition, I think this doesn’t really affect me, although, depending on interpretation, I may have to travel to Nevada to buy projectiles (gun control freaks are pretty dim and don’t realize how easy it is to manufacture your own ammunition).

    However, should this pass, I have _NO_ intention of complying in any way whatsoever–and I suspect a significant number of other gun owners in the state will also refuse to comply.

  4. If you hope Gavvie is gonna tend toward freedom, you haven’t been keeping your eye on him.

  5. If this passes, I predict a large increase in “gun thefts”.

  6. Live Free[er]?

    Dear Reason reader,

    one of the most personal freedom- damaging beliefs you can have [one of many :-)] , is the belief in the necessity, and the effectiveness, of political involvement – to supposedly “improve” your own life and the lives of others via the political process.

    Fact: as an individual you will _never_ enjoy a freer life for yourself until you completely reject the “drug”, “religion” [ or whatever else you want to call it] known as “political activism” or “involvement”, in its entirety.

    It is nothing more than a trap- a dead end that dramatically _decreases_ your chances of ever achieving more personal freedom and happiness for yourself in this world.

    Regards, onebornfree.
    Personal Freedom Consulting:

    1. You should commit suicide. Your life has no value and your family does not love you.

  7. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail,,,,,,,


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