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California Lawmakers Propose Bullet Tax to Curb Gun Crime

California Lawmakers Propose Per-Bullet Tax To Curb Gun Violence
A Smith & Wesson 357 magnum revolver at a target range in Los Angeles. Photographer: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- California should tax bullets to pay for mental-health programs and to put more police in crime-ridden areas, two Democratic state lawmakers proposed.

One bill, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson of Sacramento would impose a 5-cent tax per bullet sold to expand a program that screens children for mental illness. A similar measure from Oakland’s Rob Bonta would aid law enforcement in cities with the highest violent-crime rates. A third would require licenses for ammunition dealers and have them report all sales.

The bills are among nine aimed at gun violence after mass shootings last year in Newtown, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin. A tax increase in California requires a two-thirds majority vote by the legislature or a public referendum. Democratic supermajorities control both chambers.

“It shouldn’t be so easy to buy bullets, the very thing that makes a gun deadly,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, a Democrat from Berkeley. “While we have numerous safeguards in place to purchase a gun, it’s easier today to buy bullets than to buy alcohol, cigarettes or some cold medicines.”

California passed the nation’s first assault-weapon ban in 1989, after a gunman sprayed an elementary school in Stockton with an AK-47, killing five children and wounding 29. A federal ban passed in 1994 has since expired.

Weapon Ban

Another of the most deadly mass shootings in the U.S. occurred in California in 1984, when a gunman shot and killed 21 people at a McDonald’s restaurant in San Diego.

President Barack Obama has proposed reviving the U.S. assault-weapon ban and mandating background checks for all gun buyers. He also signed 23 executive orders, including several designed to maximize prosecution of gun crimes and broaden access to government data for background checks. Vice President Joe Biden headed an administration review of gun policy and has been leading the White House effort to promote the new measures.

New York state this month passed a law that tightens restrictions on firearm sales, bars ammunition magazines that hold more than seven bullets, closes gaps in a 2000 ban on assault weapons and gives authorities ways to seize guns owned by mentally ill people deemed to be a threat.

In California, Democrats also proposed strengthening the state’s assault-weapon ban by further limiting who can get a permit; requiring safe storage of weapons in homes where anyone prohibited from possessing a gun lives; ending a provision that allows possession of assault weapons bought before the ban; and extending waiting periods to purchase a firearm.

Mental Health

California Republicans have put forward their own bills, such as raising penalties for gun crimes and for illegally buying, selling or possessing a firearm; state parole for those convicted, instead of county control; boosting spending on a database of convicts, and limiting information about concealed-weapon permit holders that can be made public.

The Republicans also want to extend court-ordered mental-health treatment from six months to one year and give counties more control over some mental-health funds.

“California has some of the nation’s strongest gun laws,” said Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a Lake Elsinore Republican who is vice chairwoman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee. “Some of the ideas that President Obama has proposed in response to the Newtown tragedy are already the law in California. A militant witch hunt to disarm the tens of thousands of law-abiding gun owners will do little to prevent future tragedies.”

Pension Divestment

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System, the second-largest U.S. public pension, has agreed to divest its investments in makers of weapons and high-capacity magazines that are banned under California law.

The fund, with $155 billion of assets, acknowledged it owned a stake in Cerberus Capital Management LP, a private-equity firm. Cerberus, based in New York, has said it will sell Freedom Group Inc., the maker of the Bushmaster AR-15 rifle that police said was the primary weapon in the Newtown shooting.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michael B. Marois in Sacramento at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Stephen Merelman at

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