California Considers Background Checks for Ammo Purchases

California, whose firearms laws are already among the most restrictive in the U.S., may tighten regulations by banning semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and requiring that ammunition buyers undergo background checks.

The measures are among a set of gun-control bills introduced in the wake of the Dec. 14 Connecticut school shooting that killed 20 children and six educators being considered by the Senate Public Safety Committee.

“Our children do not have a second chance,” a weeping Paulette Brown of San Francisco, whose 17-year-old son was shot to death in 2006, told the Senate committee. “I have to keep going to the graveyard.”

Lawmakers in New York, Colorado, Connecticut and Maryland have passed laws limiting firearms ownership after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Since the beginning of the year, state legislators across the U.S. have introduced more than 1,500 gun-related bills, according to the Washington-based Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for government transparency.

“Some will say we’re overreacting to recent tragedies -- they are wrong,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the committee. “We can’t wait for the next shooting at a day-care center, nor can we wait for the next shooting at an elementary school like Newtown.”

The bills presented to the Senate committee would also ban high-capacity ammunition magazines and require ownership records for all types of guns.

Won’t Enforce

Dean Wilson, sheriff of Del Norte County in the far northwest of the state, told the senators he’d refuse to enforce some of the proposed laws as unconstitutional. Law-enforcement officers in several states including Colorado have said they’d defy new laws in the name of protecting their constituents’ right to bear arms.

“These types of actions that we’re recommending today do nothing to take action against the things we’re trying to fight,” Wilson told the senators. “You are making criminals out of decent citizens, hard-working people. As sheriff, these are laws that I will not enforce, will never enforce.”

Bullet Tax

A California Assembly Committee yesterday postponed consideration of a bill to tax ammunition 5 cents a round. The bill, sponsored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, a Sacramento Democrat, would use the tax revenue to expand screening for mental illness in children.

California lawmakers rejected similar ammunition taxes twice in the last decade. Opponents say that if ammunition buyers are held responsible for the actions of a small number of mentally disturbed people, then all other products that can be lethally used, such as gasoline and knives, should similarly be taxed.

California passed the nation’s first assault-weapon ban 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 have so far stalled in Congress.

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

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-supervised parole for those convicted, instead of county control; increased spending on a database of convicts, and limiting information about concealed-weapon permit holders that can be made public.

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.

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