Last updated October 25, 2011

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 2011.

In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law three important bills that strengthen California’s gun laws:

  • AB 809, co-sponsored by the Law Center, will help law enforcement solve and prevent gun crimes by requiring the California Department of Justice to retain copies of sales records for rifles and shotguns, as it already does for handguns;
  • AB 144 will prohibit the open carrying of unloaded handguns in public places statewide; and
  • SB 819 will enable the Department of Justice to use firearm sales fees to fund programs to disarm convicted criminals and the mentally ill.

The governor vetoed SB 427, a bill to improve the state’s existing handgun ammunition recordkeeping law. Two other bills to strengthen California’s gun laws, SB 124 and SB 661, remain in the legislature as two-year bills. Six bills to weaken California law, including AB 613, SB 313, SB 404, SB 560, SB 465 and AB 829, failed to advance out of policy committees in 2011 and are now two-year bills. All of the 2011 bills are discussed below.

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

 

Legislation to Strengthen California’s Gun Laws

AB 809: Requiring Long Gun Record Retention

AB 809 (Feuer), similar to last year’s AB 1810, would bring much-needed uniformity to the reporting and retention of firearm sales records in California. Law enforcement efforts to investigate gun crimes and disarm dangerous criminals are aided by the Automated Firearm System (AFS) database, which contains records of all handgun transfers. However, state law currently requires that records of long gun sales be destroyed by DOJ instead of being entered into AFS.

Under AB 809, DOJ would no longer be forced to destroy copies of long gun transfer records; DOJ would instead input these records into the AFS database. AB 809 would also require that the same information be entered on a Dealer’s Record of Sale (DROS) form, regardless of whether the firearm is a handgun or a long gun. Statutory provisions exempting certain long gun transfers from recordkeeping and reporting requirements would be removed, creating uniform reporting for the transfer of handguns and long guns.

Policy Considerations: AB 809 would help California law enforcement:

Quickly identify the owners of crime guns and expose channels of illegal gun trafficking. Without long gun records, law enforcement must painstakingly trace a recovered long gun from the manufacturer to the firearms dealer who sold the weapon, to the last known purchaser.

Get firearms out of the hands of dangerous felons, domestic abusers, and mentally ill individuals who still own guns even though they are ineligible to possess them. Currently, law enforcement may use a state database to identify prohibited persons who own handguns, but not long guns.

Be forewarned about the presence of guns at private residences when responding to emergency calls. Officers currently may use the AFS database to check whether a person at a residence owns any handguns, but they have no way of knowing whether a person owns any long guns.

Status: Signed into law by Governor Brown on October 9. Read the governor’s signing message here.

AB 144: Prohibiting Open Carrying of Handguns in Public Places

AB 144 (Portantino), similar to last year’s AB 1934, would prohibit the open carrying of unloaded handguns in any public place or on any public street. Current law prohibits the possession of loaded firearms, except in certain unincorporated areas, but does not prohibit the open carrying of unloaded firearms, even if the individual is also carrying ammunition on his or her person. State law also allows a law enforcement agency in a county with less than 200,000 persons to issue licenses to openly carry loaded firearms within that county.

Policy Considerations: The recent surge in open carrying – at, among other places, coffee shops, political rallies, and public parks – only creates more opportunities for everyday interpersonal conflicts to turn into deadly shootouts. The open carrying of firearms intimidates the public, wastes law enforcement resources, and creates opportunities for injury and death due to the accidental or intentional use of firearms. AB 144 addresses this threat to public safety.

Status: Signed into law by Governor Brown on October 9.

SB 427: Clarifying Definition of Handgun Ammunition and Improving Ammunition Vendor Requirements

SB 427 (De León), similar to last year’s AB 2358, would make several modifications to state laws regulating handgun ammunition. SB 427 would redefine the term “handgun ammunition” as used in state law. For purposes of the state’s laws regulating handgun ammunition vendors, the term would be defined to include any ammunition in a number of identified calibers. For all other purposes, “handgun ammunition” would be defined as “ammunition capable of being used in pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed upon the person, notwithstanding that the ammunition may also be used in some rifles.”

Under this bill, a handgun ammunition vendor would be required to provide written notice to local law enforcement of the vendor’s intent to conduct business in the jurisdiction; the vendor would also be obligated to obtain any regulatory or business license required by the local jurisdiction for ammunition sellers. Law enforcement would be authorized to copy a vendor’s ammunition sales records for investigative or enforcement purposes.

SB 427 would also clarify that individuals may purchase handgun ammunition over the Internet or by means of remote ordering, so long as a vendor in California initially receives the ammunition and processes the transfer in accordance with state law. The bill would prohibit vendors from providing sales records to third parties without purchaser consent, would require vendors to maintain records in a manner that protects a purchaser’s privacy, and would require the destruction of sales records after five years. Finally, the bill would require any court issuing an injunction related to gang activity to state on the record whether the individuals subject to the injunction will be prohibited from possessing firearms as a term of the injunction.

Policy Considerations: SB 427 responds to a Fresno Superior Court decision earlier this year that found the current definition of handgun ammunition to be impermissibly vague. While the Law Center disagrees with the Fresno ruling – the definition of handgun ammunition was adopted by the state in 1982, and we are unaware of any enforcement issues over the past 29 years that might justify a finding of vagueness – and we hope that it will be overturned on appeal, the Fresno decision currently prevents the enforcement of the important handgun ammunition laws adopted through AB 962 in 2009.

Additionally, SB 427 would help local law enforcement provide important oversight of handgun ammunition sellers within their jurisdictions. The bill also enhances local law enforcement’s ability to use handgun ammunition sales records to identify prohibited purchasers by cross-referencing sales records with the state’s database of prohibited persons. Moreover, SB 427 would help keep guns out of the hands of gang members. Finally, the bill would help protect the privacy of handgun ammunition purchasers from access by unauthorized third parties, and would clarify that Internet sales of handgun ammunition are permissible if completed in compliance with state law.

Status: Vetoed by Governor Brown on October 9. Read the governor’s veto message here.

SB 819: Authorizing Use of Fees for Enforcement of Firearms Prohibitions

Under current law, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is authorized to require firearms dealers to impose a fee attached to the purchase of a firearm; under state law, the fees, collected in the Dealers’ Record of Sale (DROS) account, may be used to fund a specific set of purposes, including DOJ “regulatory and enforcement activities related to the sale, purchase, loan, or transfer of firearms.”

DOJ maintains an Armed and Prohibited Persons database (APPS), which has identified over 18,000 individuals in California who are the recorded owners of handguns and are also prohibited from possessing firearms under state law. State efforts to disarm prohibited individuals are currently funded through the state’s general fund. SB 819 (Leno) would authorize DOJ to fund these efforts through the DROS account by amending state law to authorize use of the account for enforcement activities related to the possession of firearms.

Policy Considerations: Disarming prohibited persons, including convicted felons, domestic abusers and the mentally ill, is a serious public safety concern and DOJ should be authorized to use firearm sales fees to fund APPS-related enforcement programs.

Status: Signed into law by Governor Brown on October 9.

SJR 7: Supporting Federal Legislation to Ban Large Capacity Ammunition Magazines

SJR 7 (Padilla) would express the California Legislature’s support for H.R. 308 (McCarthy) and S. 32 (Lautenberg), two federal bills that would prohibit the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines, which include any magazine with a capacity of more than ten rounds of ammunition. Federal law previously outlawed the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines as part of the 1994 assault weapons ban, but that prohibition expired when Congress failed to renew the assault weapons ban in 2004.

Only a handful of states regulate large capacity ammunition magazines. California law prohibits the sale of large capacity ammunition magazines within the state, but such magazines can be easily purchased in Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, and most other states.

Policy Considerations: Large capacity ammunition magazines, some of which can hold up to 100 rounds of ammunition, are military-style devices that have no place being sold on the consumer market. These magazines are the common thread uniting all of the major mass shootings in recent history, including the Tucson massacre earlier this year, as well as the tragic shootings at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and the massacre at 101 California Street in San Francisco that led to our formation.

Status: Chaptered into law on July 19.

SB 124: Amending Definitions of Handgun Ammunition and Armor-Piercing Ammunition

SB 124 (De León) would amend the definitions of handgun ammunition and armor-piercing ammunition in the California Penal Code. Under current law, “handgun ammunition” is defined as “ammunition principally for use in pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed upon the person, notwithstanding that the ammunition may also be used in some rifles.” SB 124 would remove the word “principally” from that definition and would replace the phrase “for use” with the phrase “capable of being used.” (SB 427, described above, would amend the definition of handgun ammunition in a similar manner.)

The bill would also recast “handgun ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor” – currently defined as certain ammunition “except a shotgun shell or ammunition primarily designed for use in a rifle, that is designed primarily to penetrate a body vest or body shield” — as “handgun ammunition designed to penetrate metal or armor.” The bill would amend the definition of this term to mean certain ammunition “except a shotgun shell, that is designed to penetrate a body vest or body shield when discharged from a handgun.” Other code references to “ammunition designed primarily to penetrate metal or armor” would be amended to delete the word “primarily.”

Policy Considerations: SB 124 responds to a Fresno Superior Court decision earlier this year that found the current definition of handgun ammunition to be impermissibly vague. In that case, the court found that the definition “provides no objective way or method for a person or a handgun ammunition vendor to determine if a particular ammunition caliber or cartridge is used more often, or used more than fifty percent of the time, or used for the most part in [handguns,] even though the same ammunition caliber or cartridge may also be used in rifles.”

The Law Center disagrees with the Fresno ruling – the definition of handgun ammunition was adopted by the state in 1982, and we are unaware of any enforcement issues over the past 29 years that might justify a finding of vagueness – and we hope that it will be overturned on appeal. In the interim, however, unless state law is amended, the Fresno decision prevents the current enforcement of the important handgun ammunition laws adopted through AB 962 in 2009 and places the state’s armor-piercing ammunition laws in jeopardy.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

SB 661: Extending Gun Free School Zones

SB 661 (Lieu), similar to 2009’s AB 668 (prior to amendments to that bill), amends existing law prohibiting the possession of a firearm in a school zone. Current law defines a school zone to include a distance of 1,000 feet from school grounds. SB 661 would extend that distance to 1,500 feet.

Additionally, the bill contains important fixes that clarify ambiguous provisions of the Gun Free Schools Act. The bill clarifies that in order to possess a handgun within a vehicle in a school zone, the handgun must be lawfully possessed and must be unloaded and in a locked container within the vehicle or unloaded and inside the vehicle’s trunk. Moreover, the bill clarifies that, with respect to the exception that permits firearm possession when an individual is in “grave danger,” the firearm in question must be lawfully possessed. Finally, SB 661 clarifies that certain persons exempt from the school zone prohibition, including common carriers, military or civil organizations while parading, and firearms dealers, must have written permission from the school district superintendent or other school authority in order to be authorized to carry a firearm into any school facility.

Policy Considerations: By clarifying existing law and expanding the boundaries of school zones to 1,500 feet, SB 661 would help enable law enforcement and school officials to protect the state’s students from the substantial risk of harm posed by firearms on school property.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

 

Legislation to Weaken California’s Gun Laws

AB 613: Repealing Handgun Ammunition Recordkeeping Law

In 2009, the California Legislature adopted AB 962, a bill to: 1) require handgun ammunition vendors to maintain record containing certain identifying information about purchasers of handgun ammunition; 2) require all handgun ammunition sales to be completed in face-to-face transactions; 3) mandate that vendors store handgun ammunition so that it is inaccessible to purchasers without the assistance of the vendor; and 4) prohibit vendors from allowing employees who are prohibited persons to handle handgun ammunition. AB 613 (Hagman) would repeal all of these provisions.

Policy Considerations: The legislature enacted AB 962 because it was common sense legislation to help keep handgun ammunition away from criminals, young people and other prohibited persons. As Governor Schwarzenegger concluded in his signing statement, “Assembly Bill 962 reasonably regulates access to ammunition and improves public safety without placing undue burdens on consumers.”

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

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 weapon can fire multiple times without malfunctioning, and a drop safety test, confirming that the firearm can be dropped without discharging.

SB 313 (Correa), similar to last year’s AB 2546, would exempt firearms from the certification requirements if they are: handguns for which production ceased prior to January 1, 2000 and has not resumed, or are “commemorative” or “custom-made” handguns produced in quantities of 1,000 or fewer from the state’s safety requirements.

Policy Considerations: In prohibiting the manufacture, importation or sale of unsafe handguns in 1999, the Legislature recognized the particular dangers that “junk guns” pose to firearm owners. There is simply no justification to permit the importation and sale of additional potentially unsafe handguns. Moreover, the bill does not define “commemorative” or “custom-made,” which could create significant loopholes for manufacturers seeking to evade the unsafe handgun law. More importantly, there is no reason why even properly defined “commemorative” or “custom-made” weapons should be exempt from fundamental handgun safety requirements that protect firearms owners and the general public.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

SB 404: Exempting Veterans from Handgun Safety Certificate Requirement

SB 404 (Anderson), similar to last year’s AB 2152 (before amendments significantly changed that bill), would exempt any honorably discharged armed forces veteran from the state’s Handgun Safety Certificate requirement. Under current California law, subject to limited exceptions, any person intending to purchase or receive a handgun must obtain a Handgun Safety Certificate and present the certificate to a firearms dealer prior to receiving the weapon. In order to obtain a certificate, an applicant must successfully pass an objective written test that covers, among other topics: California laws applicable to carrying and handling handguns, the private sale of firearms, and the permissible use of lethal force, as well as the responsibilities of handgun ownership, safe firearm storage, and the issues associated with bringing a handgun into the home.

SB 404 would require a dealer to provide, at the time of delivery of the handgun, a copy of the state’s manual on handgun safety to any person exempted from the Handgun Safety Certificate requirement.

Policy Considerations: California’s Handgun Safety Certificate requirement seeks both to reduce the number of unintentional shootings, by ensuring that gun owners know how to safely use and store their weapons, and to increase compliance with firearms laws, by requiring gun owners to demonstrate knowledge of those laws. Regardless of whether California’s approximately two million veterans received adequate training on the safe handling and storage of handguns during their military service, it is essential that they be familiar with California’s firearms laws.

The Handgun Safety Certificate testing process is a reasonable way to confirm a baseline level of familiarity with fundamental state gun laws and important safety issues (including safe firearm storage and the risks associated with handguns in the home). Compared to the vital public safety interests it helps protect, the testing process imposes a minimal burden upon new handgun owners. There is simply no reason to exempt honorably discharged veterans from a test that confirms their understanding of California firearms laws.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

SB 560: Burdensome State Agency Requirements

SB 560 (Wright) would make broad changes to the rules regarding how state agencies adopt, implement, amend, and repeal new regulations. One provision would require an agency to reimburse individuals and businesses for costs incurred in purchasing “new or emerging technology or equipment” in compliance with a regulation that the agency ultimately determines is “not workable because the new or emerging technology or other equipment does not function as intended by the adopting agency.”

A separate provision of SB 560 would unreasonably narrow the pool of individuals with whom an agency may consult prior to adopting, amending, or repealing a regulation. Under current law, an agency may consult with “interested persons.” SB 560 would replace the term “interested persons” with “parties who would be subject to the proposed regulations.”

Policy Considerations: SB 560’s reimbursement requirement provision is troubling because it is vague, because it subjects state agencies to enormous financial risk, and because it burdens agencies with decision making that is best left to the legislature. While this provision would have implications in the area of gun safety (the Department of Justice has recently adopted regulations to implement the state’s innovative new handgun “microstamping” law), its impact would extend to any regulation involving technological advancement. The bill could impose huge financial burdens on government agencies – burdens that would ultimately be borne by all California taxpayers – and have a chilling effect on those agencies and the legislature, discouraging them from considering innovative technological solutions to a vast of array of the state’s problems.

In addition, it is inappropriate for state agencies to be burdened with making substantive decisions about whether regulations they have adopted pursuant to a directive of the legislature involve technologies that are “not workable.” The legislature is empowered to adopt laws mandating the use of emerging technologies, and it is in the best position to evaluate whether those technologies ultimately function as intended.

Moreover, SB 560 would unreasonably narrow the pool of individuals with whom an agency may consult prior to adopting, amending, or repealing a regulation, by replacing the term “interested persons” with “parties who would be subject to the proposed regulations.” Thus, under the bill, individuals and groups who may have a significant interest in a regulation, but who would not be “subject to” that regulation, would not be consulted by an agency.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

SB 465: Weakening Concealed Carry Requirements for Elected Officials

SB 465 (Wright) amends state law regulating the application process for a license to carry a concealed weapon (CCW). 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, among other things, has good cause to receive a license. SB 465 would deem good cause met for any CCW license applicant who is a member of Congress, a statewide elected official, or member of the California Legislature, for purposes of protection or self-defense.

Policy Considerations: The good cause requirement, under which an applicant must demonstrate a particularized, justifiable need to carry a concealed firearm, serves as an important gatekeeper to prevent the issuance of concealed carry licenses to individuals who have no reason to carry a weapon in public. Elected officials, like other members of the public, should be required to meet this threshold showing.

While carrying a concealed handgun in public might make the firearm holder feel safer, it places the public at an increased risk of gun violence. Additionally, despite any increased feeling of safety, research has shown that carrying is no more likely to reduce a person’s chance of being injured during a crime than various other forms of protective action. In fact, one study suggests that carrying a firearm may actually increase a victim’s risk of firearm injury during the commission of a crime. As a result, concealed carry licenses should only be issued to individuals who have demonstrated a legitimate need.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

AB 829: Expanding CCW Licenses for Retired Reserve Peace Officers

State law provides that a retired peace officer who was authorized to, and did, carry a firearm during the scope of his or her employment shall receive an endorsement on the officer’s identification certificate that enables him or her to carry a concealed loaded handgun. AB 829 (Knight) would expand this privilege to every retired reserve officer who was a Level I or Level II reserve officer, who carried a firearm within the scope of his or her employment, and who served at least 15 years as a reserve peace officer.

Policy Considerations: AB 829 would broadly expand concealed carrying for retired Level I and Level II reserve officers, even though both levels are subject to different training requirements and are entrusted with different levels of responsibility. Level II officers must be under the immediate supervision of a peace officer when engaged in general law enforcement duties; in contrast, Level I officers do not need to be under any immediate supervision. As a result, AB 829 would authorize individuals to carry concealed firearms in retirement when their law enforcement service was limited to work under the immediate supervision of other officers.

Like other Californians, any retired reserve peace officer may apply to local law enforcement for a license to carry a concealed weapon. A retired reserve officer may acquire a license if he or she is, among other requirements, able to demonstrate good cause, meaning a particularized, justifiable need to carry a concealed firearm. The good cause requirement prevents the issuance of concealed carry licenses to individuals who have no reason to carry a weapon in public. To the extent that any retired reserve officer has a legitimate need to carry a concealed handgun, he or she should be required to meet this threshold showing.

Status: Two-year bill: no further legislative action this year.

 

Other Firearm-Related Bills

  • AB 811: Establishing Procedures for Firearm Ownership by Private Patrol Operators
  • AB 1331: Delaying Effective Date of Penal Code Reorganization
  • AB 1402: Penal Code Reorganization Follow-Up Bill
  • SB 269: Requiring Annual Reporting of Revenues and Expenditures Related to Dealers’ Record of Sale Special Account
  • SB 610: Amending Concealed Carry Licensing Laws
  • SB 798: Undoing State Preemption of Local Regulation of Imitation Firearms
  • SB 894: Amending Criminal Penalties for Carrying of Firearms in Public by Convicted Felons