Jerry Brown Vetoes Tighter California Controls on Assault Rifles

California’s gun-control laws won’t be expanded to prohibit the types of rifles used in two of last year’s mass shootings, Governor Jerry Brown said.

Brown, a 75-year-old Democrat and a gun owner himself, vetoed a bill to ban the sale of semiautomatic rifles with detachable magazines, saying it encroached on citizens’ rights. At the same time, he signed a bill blocking the sale of adapters giving the weapons greater ammunition capacity, and approved the nation’s first ban on lead bullets.

The rifle bill “rifles that are commonly used for hunting, firearms training and marksmanship practice, as well as some historical and collectible firearms,” Brown said yesterday in a statement explaining his veto. “I don’t believe this bill’s blanket ban on semiautomatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement of gun owners’ rights.”

California lawmakers passed the measures in the wake of mass shootings in a Newtown, Connecticut, school that killed 20 children and six educators, and in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theater where 12 died. The massacres prompted lawmakers in Colorado, New York, Connecticut and Maryland to pass stricter gun laws, even as a push for federal measures stalled in Congress.

The National Rifle Association, the nation’s biggest gun lobby, said it would challenge the constitutionality of a California rifle limit, according to a posting Oct. 1 on the website of the Fairfax, Virginia-based NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

The bill’s author, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, chided Brown for blocking the measure.

‘Too Far’

“The governor said he believes this measure to ban semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines goes too far,” Steinberg said in a statement. “Aggressive action is precisely what’s needed to reduce the carnage in our communities, and to counter the equally aggressive action by the gun industry.”

Brown also vetoed a bill to allow the city of Oakland, where he was mayor for two terms, to establish gun registration and licensing programs more restrictive than the state’s. Oakland officials sought the law to help combat a growing number of gun-related crimes in the city of 400,000.

The governor signed a bill making California the first state in the U.S. to prohibit the use of lead ammunition for hunting, to curb the threat of poisoning to people and wildlife. Brown signed the ban only after it was amended to make it less restrictive to hunters. Critics say he ban will hurt hunting.

Conservation Standing

“I am concerned, however, the impression left from this bill is that hunters and sportsmen and women in California are not conservationist,” he said in a statement. “Since 1930, hunters have done more than any other community to conserve species and their habitats and this is a lasting conservation legacy.”

The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association based in Newtown, said it was dismayed that Brown banned lead bullets, though it was pleased with his veto of the semiautomatic rifle bill.

“Many types of rifles with detachable magazines were at risk of being banned,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the foundation, said in a statement. “We appreciate the governor’s action to prevent thousands of lawful gun owners from being labeled as criminals,”

The lead-bullet law “amounts to a virtual ban on hunting because the federal government considers most types of non-lead ammunition to be ‘armor piercing’” and limits its manufacture and sale, Keene said. “Many types of standard hunting long rifles are not compatible with alternative metal ammunition or will require significant modification.”

The law authorizes California’s Fish and Wildlife director to suspend the ban if the federal government prohibits non-lead ammunition because of its armor-piercing aspect.

California passed the nation’s first ban on some semiautomatic rifles in 1989 after a gunman with an AK-47 sprayed an elementary school in Stockton, killing five children and wounding 29.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at mmarois@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at smerelman@bloomberg.net

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