Brown Weighs Tighter Gun Controls in Wake of Killings
Four days after the deadliest mass killing since an elementary-school massacre gripped the nation last year, California Governor Jerry Brown is deliberating whether to sign measures to tighten gun control.
The bills on the governor’s desk were passed at the end of the legislative session last week, before a Sept. 16 shooting rampage in the Washington Navy Yard killed 12 people.
Brown, a 75-year-old Democrat and a gun owner himself, hasn’t said what action he’ll take. While he has signed previous curbs on firearms, he met last week with a state senator who proposed background checks on ammunition buyers and told him it would be best to shelve the plan for now.
“He understood that we didn’t want criminals buying ammunition,” said Dan Reeves, the chief of staff for Senator Kevin De Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, who took part in the meeting.“He gets what we are trying to accomplish. But these registered gun-owners have gone through a background check. Why should they have to do it again?”
Jim Evans, a spokesman for Brown, declined to comment on the meeting. The bill was withdrawn.
De Leon’s measure called for ammunition sales to be reported to the state Justice Department to compare with a database of people prohibited from owning firearms. It also would require a background investigation before buying ammunition, to be renewed every two years, beginning in 2016.
“At the request of Governor Jerry Brown, I have agreed to work with his office during the interim to find a practical solution to keeping ammunition out of the hands of criminals,” De Leon said in a statement after the bill was put on hold. “The governor has expressed a resolve to help stem the continued outbreak of gun violence.”
The bills on Brown’s desk were introduced after a gunman killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in December.
The measures would outlaw semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines, ban adapters to convert magazines to high capacity, order safety certification before buying any gun and require ownership records for all firearms. The governor has until Oct. 13 to sign or veto the bills.
Prior to summoning De Leon into his office last week, Brown telephoned Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and gun-rights advocates for their thoughts on the proposal, Reeves said.
“He basically did his own homework,” Reeves said. “On these gun issues, he definitely talks to people on both sides of the issue.”
Brown told De Leon that a better approach might be to find a way to exempt existing gun owners from the need for an additional background investigation, Reeves said. To do so, though, he said, the state would need to match gun records, possibly years old, and verify that person is the same one trying to purchase ammunition.
The governor told De Leon to work with the Justice Department to see if such a system would work and then return next year with a new bill, according to Reeves.
“He said he’s not going to guarantee that he’d go down that path with regards to purchase permits,” Reeves said. “He wants to see a system that he knows will work and doesn’t inconvenience gun owners. He’s the governor and we need his signature, so we really didn’t have a lot of options.”
If Brown signs the other bills, they would put California in line with other states that enacted tougher rules after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and a movie-theater attack in a Denver suburb that killed 12 people in July 2012. A push for tougher federal measures stalled in Congress.
Colorado approved the most sweeping restrictions in more than a decade, limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and requiring background checks for all gun sales. A backlash led to the recall of two state senators Sept. 10, the first in that state’s history.
California passed the nation’s first ban on some semi-automatic rifles in 1989 after a gunman with an AK-47 sprayed an elementary school in Stockton, killing five children and wounding 29.
A federal ban passed in 1994 has since expired and efforts to restore it, led by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, stalled in Congress.
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