Updated September 5, 2012

The Law Center monitors all firearm-related bills introduced in the California Legislature each year. The analysis below highlights and summarizes significant legislation considered by the legislature in 2012.

A dozen significant gun bills have been considered by the legislature this year, including SB 1366, co-sponsored by the Law Center. SB 1366, which is currently before the governor, would help law enforcement solve and prevent gun crimes by requiring firearm owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Three other bills to strengthen California’s gun laws are on the governor’s desk:

  • AB 1527, prohibiting the open carry of unloaded rifles and shotguns;
  • SB 1433, improving the process for getting guns out of the hands of domestic abusers; and
  • AB 2460, removing a loophole in the state’s ban on unsafe handguns.

Additionally, a number of bills to weaken California’s gun laws were defeated earlier this year.

Our California law summary contains information about the state’s existing firearms laws.

Legislation to Strengthen California’s Gun Laws

SB 1366: Requiring the Reporting of Lost or Stolen Firearms

At present, California law requires firearms dealers and manufacturers to report any lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours, but firearm owners whose guns are lost or stolen are not required to do anything. This gap in existing law significantly hinders law enforcement efforts to investigate gun crimes and disarm dangerous criminals.

Co-sponsored by the Law Center, SB 1366 (DeSaulnier) would require that, beginning January 1, 2013, every person whose firearm is lost or stolen must notify local law enforcement within 48 hours of the time the person knew or reasonably should have known that the firearm had been lost or stolen.

Policy Considerations: The reporting of lost or stolen firearms would bring several critical improvements to public safety in California. First, such a reporting requirement would aid in the fight against illegal gun trafficking. When a crime gun is traced by law enforcement to the last known purchaser, that person may falsely claim that the gun was lost or stolen to hide his or her involvement in the crime or in gun trafficking. A reporting law would provide a tool for law enforcement to detect firearms trafficking and prosecute “straw purchasers,” individuals who buy firearms on behalf of criminals who are prohibited from possessing guns.

An analysis by Mayors Against Illegal Guns – a nationwide coalition of over 600 mayors – found that states without mandatory lost or stolen reporting laws export two and a half times more crime guns across state lines than jurisdictions with such laws. Similarly, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found that state laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms were associated with crime gun export rates that were 43 percent lower than in states that lacked this policy.

Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms would also enhance the California Department of Justice’s efforts to remove firearms from convicted criminals and others identified in the state’s Armed and Prohibited Persons System database. Currently, these individuals, who own firearms but are prohibited from possessing them, may falsely claim that their illegally-possessed firearms were lost or stolen without any consequences.

Finally, a reporting requirement would alert law enforcement to the existence of guns that are on the streets in their communities. A 2007 report by the International Association of Chiefs of Police recommended that state and local governments mandate reporting of lost or stolen firearms. The IACP report concluded that, “law enforcement’s early awareness of every lost and stolen gun will enhance their ability to recover those guns and reduce gun violence.” A reporting requirement would also make it easier for law enforcement to return lost or stolen firearms to their rightful owners.

Status: Passed the California Legislature. Now eligible for signature by the governor.

 

AB 1527: Prohibiting Open Carry of Unloaded Long Guns

In response to concerns about the open carrying of firearms, in 2011 the Legislature approved AB 144, a measure to prohibit the open carrying of unloaded handguns in public places. Unfortunately, members of the so-called “open carry movement” responded to this development by carrying long guns in public places. AB 1527 (Portantino) would address this conduct by prohibiting the open carrying of unloaded rifles and shotguns in public places in incorporated cities statewide.

Policy Considerations: Over the past several years, members of the “open carry movement” have held numerous carrying events in public places like coffee shops, restaurants, and public parks. These events have shocked Californians statewide, because the open carrying of firearms creates serious public safety concerns. Open carrying intimidates the public, wastes law enforcement resources, and creates opportunities for injury and death due to the accidental or intentional use of firearms. This conduct needlessly increases the likelihood that everyday interpersonal conflicts will turn into deadly shootouts.

Status: Passed the California Legislature. Now eligible for signature by the governor.

 

AB 2460: Removing Loophole in Unsafe Handgun Ban

California law prohibits the manufacture, importation or sale of any handgun unless that weapon has been deemed “certified for sale” by the Department of Justice. In order to be certified, a handgun must, among other requirements, pass a firing test, confirming that the gun can be fired multiple times without malfunctioning, and a drop safety test, confirming that it can be dropped without discharging. The prohibition on the sale of unsafe handguns is vital to public safety because of the particular dangers that “junk guns” pose to firearm owners statewide.

Unfortunately, a loophole in state law allows individuals who are exempt from the ban, including members of law enforcement, to purchase prohibited firearms and then resell them to members of the general public. AB 2460 (Dickinson) would clarify existing law by confirming that persons exempt from the unsafe handgun ban may only transfer those firearms to other exempt persons.

Policy Considerations: By allowing the introduction of new unsafe handguns into the consumer market, this loophole needlessly places members of the public at risk. AB 2460 is a prudent measure that will further the consumer protection goals advanced by the unsafe handgun ban.

Status: Passed the California Legislature. Now eligible for signature by the governor.

 

SB 249: Clarifying California’s Assault Weapons Ban

California law defines prohibited assault weapons to include firearms that have both the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and one of a list of specific military-style features. These features help assailants kill as many people as possible by enabling them to spray large amounts of fire quickly and accurately. The ability to accept detachable magazines helps a shooter quickly reload an assault weapon in order to commit maximum damage.

California’s assault weapons ban does not define the term “detachable magazine.” Perplexingly, current regulations define “detachable magazine” in a manner that runs counter to both the spirit and the letter of the state’s assault weapons law. Under the regulations, if any “tool,” including a bullet, is required to release a firearm’s magazine, then the weapon does not have the capacity to accept a detachable magazine, and is therefore not within the scope of the ban.

Using these regulations as cover, firearm manufacturers have begun to reintroduce assault weapons into California, including a version of the Smith & Wesson assault rifle used in the recent massacre in Aurora, Colorado, where the shooter killed twelve people and injured 58 others. These “California compliant” weapons are equipped with the “bullet button,” a button that a user may depress, using a bullet, to trigger the release of the gun’s ammunition magazine.

SB 249 (Yee) would provide a statutory definition of “detachable magazine” in order to clarify that firearms with devices like the bullet button are, as common sense and the statute’s plain language would indicate, illegal assault weapons. The bill would also empower the Department of Justice to adopt new regulations to block any further attempts to subvert the assault weapons law.

Policy Considerations: Bullet button-equipped firearms are functionally the same as illegal assault weapons. It is just as easy for a firearm user to use a bullet to depress a button and trigger the release of a magazine as it is to use a finger to complete the same task. As a result, these weapons represent a serious and immediate threat to California’s assault weapons ban and to the safety of Californians statewide.

California’s assault weapons ban is the strongest law of its kind anywhere in the United States. It is a critically important measure that protects law enforcement and the public from military-style firearms that have no place in our communities. SB 249 would ratify what the legislature has already repeatedly confirmed – that assault weapons don’t belong in California.

Status: Held in the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

 

SB 1433: Improving Firearm Relinquishment Process for Domestic Abusers

Current law prohibits individuals subject to domestic violence protective orders from possessing firearms. Under current law, a domestic abuser subject to a protective order must relinquish any firearms or ammunition “upon the request of” the law enforcement officer serving the protective order or, within 24 hours, to a local law enforcement agency or a licensed gun dealer. Within 48 hours, the abuser must file a receipt in court indicating that all firearms were surrendered.

SB 1433 (Alquist) would strengthen this relinquishment requirement to better ensure that domestic abusers get rid of their firearms. The bill would require courts identified by the Judicial Council to search the California Department of Justice’s records to identify any firearms owned by an abuser prior to issuing a protective order. If the order indicates that a domestic abuser possesses guns, the law enforcement officer serving the order would be required to request that the abuser immediately surrender any firearms. Additionally, SB 1433 would require an abuser who has surrendered firearms to provide a copy of the confirmation receipt to the law enforcement agency that served the protective order.

Policy Considerations: The role that firearms regularly play in domestic violence is harrowing. Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abusers if an abuser owns a firearm, and domestic violence assaults involving a firearm are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force. One survey of female domestic violence shelter residents in California found that more than one-third reported having been threatened or harmed with a firearm. In nearly two-thirds of the households that contained a firearm, the intimate partner had used the firearm against the victim, usually threatening to shoot or kill the victim. Strong procedures to facilitate the relinquishment of firearms by domestic abusers are therefore critical to preventing future incidents of lethal violence.

Status: Passed the California Legislature. Now eligible for signature by the governor.

 

AJR 45: Urging Congress to Reauthorize Federal Assault Weapons Ban

Assault weapons are semi-automatic firearms designed with military features that enable rapid spray firing. They are designed not for “sport,” but to kill humans quickly and efficiently. Large capacity ammunition magazines, some of which can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, enable a shooter to injure and kill many people without needing to reload. These magazines are frequently used in mass shootings, including those which occurred in Aurora, Tucson, and Columbine, and at Virginia Tech and 101 California Street in San Francisco.

In 1994, Congress adopted a federal ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Unfortunately, despite evidence that the ban was effective in reducing the use of these devices in crimes, the law expired without reauthorization in 2004. AJR 45 (Feuer) would urge Congress to reauthorize the federal ban.

Policy Considerations: Today, California leads the handful of states that prohibit assault weapons and large capacity magazines; most states, however, do not regulate them at all. Because our porous borders allow guns to easily travel between states, even states that take steps to protect their communities from these weapons are vulnerable to them without a comprehensive federal law.

A strong federal assault weapons ban is critical to keeping Californians and Americans nationwide safe from the devastating violence that these devices all too frequently cause. A consistent majority of Americans support prohibiting assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. It’s time for Congress to listen.

Status: Passed the California Legislature.

 

SJR 10: Supporting Efforts to Combat Firearms Trafficking to Mexico

Over the past five years, over 50,000 people in Mexico have been killed in an unprecedented wave of drug-related violence, and despite U.S. and Mexican efforts, the violence shows no sign of abating. Since Mexico’s laws regarding the possession of guns by civilians are strict, the Mexican drug cartels obtain firearms legally – and easily – in the U.S.

SJR 10 (De Leon) would urge the federal government to adopt a comprehensive approach to fight cross-border arms smuggling. Among other important recommendations, the resolution urges President Obama and Congress to:

  • Pass legislation to require the completion of a background check for every gun sale;
  • Adopt federal bans on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines; and
  • Expand federal authority to crack down on corrupt firearms dealers.

Policy Considerations: The need for greater federal action in combating firearms trafficking is underscored by the fact that three of the four states that share a border with Mexico also have weak gun laws. An issue brief produced by Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) used ATF crime gun trace data to analyze the numbers of crime guns exported into Mexico by U.S. states. Not surprisingly, the four border states – Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas – were the states with the highest number of exports. After controlling for population, MAIG found that three of these states – Arizona, New Mexico and Texas – each exported firearms to Mexico at a rate that is 169% higher than any other state and more than three times as high as California. MAIG noted that California has enacted several laws identified as critical to combatting gun trafficking – including laws requiring background checks for firearm sales at gun shows and allowing inspection of gun dealers – while Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have not.

It has become common knowledge that our nation’s lax oversight of gun dealers, as well as the absence of federal and state laws that would help curb gun trafficking, are directly fueling drug-related violence in Mexico. New federal and state laws and increased enforcement vigilance are desperately needed to stop this epidemic. Anti-trafficking efforts are significantly hampered by the lack of a background check requirement for private gun transfers, and there is simply no justification for the continued sale of assault weapons, large capacity ammunition magazines, and .50-caliber rifles on the consumer market. Without substantial reforms, including those urged in SJR 10, America will continue to supply the weaponry used in Mexican bloodshed.

Status: Passed the California Legislature.

 

Legislation to Weaken California’s Gun Laws

AB 2376: Weakening Law Enforcement Discretion in Concealed Carry Licensing

Under current law, a local law enforcement agency may issue an individual a license to carry a concealed firearm only after finding that the applicant: 1) has good cause to receive a license; 2) has completed a firearms safety course; 3) is not prohibited from possessing firearms; and 4) is of good moral character. AB 2376 (Halderman) would weaken the “good cause” requirement by inserting language stating that “‘good cause’ shall be conclusively established if the applicant has a report on file with a law enforcement agency evidencing that he or she is a victim of a hate crime.”

Policy Considerations: Hate crimes are terrible events worthy of serious attention by both law enforcement and the legislature. AB 2376, however, does not help stop hate crimes. Rather, the bill would carve a significant loophole into California’s concealed weapons laws, by forcing law enforcement to deem good cause satisfied for any applicant who has filed a police report alleging a hate crime, regardless of whether the claims made in the report are legitimate or not.

Local law enforcement is well-positioned to know whether an applicant truly can establish good cause to carry a deadly weapon. By limiting law enforcement discretion, AB 2376 would force agencies across California to issue licenses to individuals who have no legitimate need to carry guns in public.

Status: Bill is dead.

 

AB 2615: Removing Law Enforcement Discretion in Concealed Carry Licensing

Under California law, a local law enforcement agency “may” issue an individual a license to carry a concealed firearm only after finding that the applicant: 1) has good cause to receive a license; 2) has completed a firearms safety course; 3) is not prohibited from possessing firearms; and 4) is of good moral character. AB 2615 (Jones) would substantially weaken the “good cause” requirement by defining it to include “personal protection or self-defense,” and would require the issuance of a license to any applicant who meets these weakened minimum requirements.

Policy Considerations: By requiring local law enforcement to approve license applications where only a pro forma declaration of “personal protection or self-defense” is offered, AB 2615 would force agencies across California to issue licenses to individuals who have no legitimate need to carry guns in public. AB 2615’s goal is clear: to allow as many individuals to carry concealed firearms as possible, regardless of the dangers widespread carrying creates.

Allowing almost anyone to carry a hidden, loaded handgun does not make us safer. Rather, permissive concealed carry laws only increase the likelihood that everyday disputes will escalate into public shootouts.

Status: Bill is dead.

 

SB 313: Exempting Handguns from Safety Requirements

California law prohibits the manufacture, importation or sale of any handgun unless that weapon has been deemed “certified for sale” by the Department of Justice. In order to be certified, a handgun must, among other requirements, pass a firing test, confirming that the gun can be fired multiple times without malfunctioning, and a drop safety test, confirming that it can be dropped without discharging.

In prohibiting the sale of unsafe handguns in 1999, the Legislature recognized the particular dangers that “junk guns” pose to firearm owners. SB 313 (Correa), however, would second-guess the Legislature’s reasoned judgment by exempting three types of guns from the existing ban. The bill would authorize dealers to import and sell handguns that have not passed California’s handgun safety tests if production of those guns ceased prior to January 1, 2000. SB 313 would also exempt “commemorative” or “custom-made” handguns produced in quantities of 1,000 or fewer from the state’s safety requirements.

Policy Considerations: There is simply no reason to expose Californians to the dangers created by making additional potentially unsafe handguns available for purchase. SB 313 also provides no guidance about how to determine whether a model of handgun is “commemorative” or “custom-made,” which could create significant loopholes for manufacturers seeking to avoid the unsafe handgun law. More importantly, though, even appropriately designated “commemorative” or “custom-made” weapons should not be exempt from fundamental safety requirements designed to protect Californians from injury and death.

Status: Bill is dead.

 

SB 1567: Adding Burdensome Requirements to Background Check System

Under current California law, a dealer may not transfer a firearm to a prospective purchaser until the passage of ten days after the purchaser submits an application to buy the weapon. During that period of time, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) conducts a thorough background check on the prospective purchaser, checking the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, DOJ’s own records, as well as those records that it is authorized to request from the State Department of Mental Health.

SB 1567 (LaMalfa) would require the development and implementation of a new system for the processing of background checks. Under the bill, DOJ would be required to “immediately notify” a firearms dealer “if the department determines that the status of the purchaser is approved or prohibited.” Where the Department of Justice has not made a determination within 24 hours after the submission of the purchaser’s application, the bill would require DOJ to notify the dealer with a “hold” designation and update the dealer when the background check is completed. The bill would also eliminate the waiting period for individuals with licenses to carry concealed weapons.

Policy Considerations: SB 1567 would force DOJ to develop a costly and complex new system to immediately notify dealers upon the completion of background checks, even though most Californians would still be required to comply with the state’s ten-day waiting period. The bill would also burden DOJ with sending a dealer a “hold” message if the completion of a background check takes more than 24 hours. Forcing the Department to notify dealers in these cases merely draws resources away from the ultimate goal: actually completing an applicant’s background check.

Requiring thorough and complete background checks helps ensure that convicted criminals, the mentally ill, and other dangerous individuals do not gain access to firearms. The time and money that this bill would require would be better spent on increased efforts to prevent prohibited persons from acquiring guns.

Status: Bill is dead.

 

SB 1569: Reducing Waiting Period for Firearm Purchases

Under current California law, a dealer may not transfer a firearm to a prospective purchaser until the passage of ten days after the purchaser submits an application to buy the weapon. During that period of time, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) conducts a thorough background check on the prospective purchaser, checking the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, DOJ’s own records, as well as those records that it is authorized to request from the State Department of Mental Health.

SB 1569 (Fuller) would reduce this waiting period from ten days to 72 hours.

Policy Considerations: The ten-day waiting period law helps ensure that DOJ has adequate time to perform a thorough background check on a prospective firearm purchaser and provides a cooling-off period to help guard against impulsive acts of violence. California’s law is especially critical because there is no waiting period required by federal law.

Given the importance of a thorough and complete background check in helping ensure that convicted criminals, the mentally ill, and other dangerous individuals do not gain access to firearms, there’s simply no good reason to cut corners here.

Status: Bill is dead.

 

Other Firearm-Related Bills

.