San Bernardino Shooting

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom Wants to Toughen California Gun Laws Via Ballot Initiative

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Yesterday's San Bernardino gun attack may well affect the politics of a prospective 2016 ballot initiative in California being pushed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco (where regulatory overreach has by now driven out all gun stores) and 2018 gubernatorial hopeful.

bkusler / Foter.com / CC BY

Details were reported a while back by San Jose Mercury News:

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a group of activists announced their intention [in October] to put a tough firearms-control measure on California's ballot next year aimed at requiring background checks for ammunition purchases and forcing gun owners to give up large-capacity magazines.

….it carries risks for gun-control supporters like Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, and also for fellow California Democrats running in swing districts in 2016, who could become vulnerable to a conservative backlash.

…But Newsom said he's ready to rumble. "If you're going to do something, go big," he said in an interview after the news conference….

Newsom and gun-control groups will need signatures from 365,880 registered voters to place the initiative on the November 2016 ballot….

What the state calls "assault weapons" and magazines that hold more than ten rounds are already illegal in California, but pre-existing ones had been grandfathered. Newsom's initiative would end that for magazines:

Newsom's measure would require owners to turn the outlawed magazines into police for destruction, sell them to a licensed firearms dealer or move them out of the state—just as San Francisco supervisors and Sunnyvale voters chose to require in 2013. New York, New Jersey, Hawaii and the District of Columbia also have such laws….

Newsom's measure also would require licensing of ammunition sellers and instantaneous point-of-sale background checks for all ammunition purchases to weed out those convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, those with restraining orders against them or those declared dangerously mentally ill.

No other state requires background checks for ammunition purchases.

This "go after the ammunition, not the guns" thing is an idea I'm hearing a lot more lately from anti-gun folk who see it as both the only way to achieve their goals (recognizing we've already got at least a gun for every person here) and potentially an end-run around Second Amendment concerns.

California's past gives reason for Newsom and his Party to be nervous about this idea:

Gun control can draw single-issue voters on both sides to the polls. For example, some political analysts believe that Democrat Tom Bradley lost 1982's gubernatorial election to Republican George Deukmejian because of his endorsement of Proposition 15, which would have imposed stricter handgun controls. The measure sparked a huge backlash and increased voter turnout in the state's more conservative areas….

But Newsom's initiative could cause conservatives to turn out disproportionately.

"Single-issue, pro-gun voters don't usually have a great need to turn out for the presidential election—they know which way California is going to go," [gun law writer Adam] Winkler said, but this measure "could stimulate more turnout among people who otherwise might skip this election altogether."

That, Newsom acknowledged, "is a potential risk." But "if you believe in something and think it's the right thing to do, I think you've got an obligation to do it."

The Los Angeles Times checked in with Newsom on this just a couple of weeks ago, making it all still sound iffy:

Everytown [Michael Bloomberg's national anti-gun group] representatives declined to discuss whether the organization intends to become involved in the proposed California initiative. Neither would Newsom or his political advisors talk about how deeply he plans to tap the Bloomberg vein if his measure is cleared to circulate petitions to place it on California's November 2016 ballot.

But Newsom acknowledges he has met with Bloomberg. He used his Twitter account to thank the former mayor for seeing him seven days after announcing his Safety for All campaign last month.

In the interview, he said he was encouraged to pursue a California initiative by both local gun-control advocates, whom he called "lawyers in the trenches," and "national groups … who feel we need a sustained conversation with the public."…

Newsom's proposed gun initiative was written by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco organization that drafts model regulations and defends such measures in court. Tax records provided by the center show it is funded largely by national foundations, including former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords' Americans for Responsible Solutions…..

If Newsom's measure qualifies for next year's ballot, the battle with the NRA is likely to be high profile and expensive.

"The whole country will be watching. The whole world will be watching," said Darry Sragow, a veteran Democratic strategist. "That makes the stakes even higher, and that probably draws even more money."

Yesterday I provided a basic broad-brush overview of existing California gun laws, already about as stringent in the direction of what people call "common sense gun safety" laws as any state in the union.