The Battle For A Free California Rages On

By Dave Kopel

America's 1st Freedom, December 2013, p. 50

With California having one-ninth of the u.s. population, destruction of the right to arms in the Golden State has long been a prime goal of the gun prohibition lobbies. This year, the gun-ban lobby went after California with full force, intending to exploit the Newtown, Conn., murders for political gain.

But because Second Amendment activists rallied, the damage done to civil rights in California--while still great--was greatly mitigated. Some of the worst anti-gun bills were thwarted at the very end. What happened there will have national consequences.

Magazine Ban Sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds is already banned in California. A similar national ban has been at the top of the Bloomberg-Obama agenda this year. In order to pass such a ban, anti-gun politicians have to promise not to take away magazines that people already own. But that promise lasts only as long as politically expedient.

For example, in New York, which had also previously banned the sale of magazines holding more than 10 rounds, a new 2013 Bloomberg-Cuomo law felonized the possession of grandfathered magazines. Owners of such magazines now have until Jan. 15, 2014, to destroy them, somehow convert them to conform to the new capacity limits or get them out of the state.

In California, a bill to confiscate all magazines holding more than 10 rounds sailed through the state Senate, and looked unstoppable in the state Assembly. But shortly before the California Assembly was set to vote on the ban, the Colorado recall elections were held. Two Colorado senators who had pushed a Bloomberg-Obama magazine ban (magazines with a capacity of more than 15 rounds) through the Colorado legislature lost their seats--one of them in a landslide, despite representing a district with a 24-point advantage in Democratic Party registration. (For more on the recall, see "First Things First," p.14, and "Volunteers Show The Way Ahead," p. 32.)

That apparently made some impression on the California legislature, as the magazine confiscation bill never made it out of the assembly--an example of how victories (or defeats) in one state can impact other states.

Because California didn't act, the New York law that outlaws grandfathered magazines now looks more like an unusual outlier rather than the wave of the future. This should make political and legal challenges to the New York law more viable.

The only anti-magazine bill that did become law in California this year was Assembly Bill 48. It outlaws the sale of parts and repair kits that can be used to build an 11-round or greater magazine, or to convert a small magazine to hold more than 10 rounds. That's a setback for the Second Amendment, but a considerably smaller one than the confiscation of millions of magazines would have been.

Semi-Auto Ban Since the gun prohibition lobbies unveiled the "assault weapon" hoax a quarter of a century ago, the NRA has been warning that gun banners labeling various guns as "assault weapons" was just the first step in a plan to outlaw all semi-automatic long guns--just as Australia and the United Kingdom have done.

In California this year, the gun-ban lobbies dropped their masks and abandoned their previous insistence that "assault weapons" are just a small and unusual category of firearms. Senate Bill 374 would have outlawed the future sale or transfer of all semi-automatic rifles that use detachable magazines. Also banned would be all semi-automatic rifles with tube or fixed magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Supposedly, owners of grandfathered rifles could keep them by registering them and paying a special fee. But, of course, this would just set up the grandfathered owners for confiscation in years hence.

Fortunately, Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the semi-auto ban. His veto message explained that S.B. 374 "covers low-capacity rifles that are commonly used for hunting, firearms training, and marksmanship practice. ... I don't believe this bill's blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners' rights."

Earlier this year in New York, Connecticut, and Maryland, broad bans on semi-auto long guns were enacted, but even these bans were not as extreme as California's S.B. 374. The National Rifle Association has filed lawsuits against the northeastern semi-automatic bans, and NRA's announcement of its plans to file suit against a new California ban might well have played a role in Gov. Brown's veto decision. The sweeping bans on semi-automatics should be found unconstitutional by any court that faithfully applies the u.s. Supreme Court's rules from District of Columbia v. Heller.

Lead Ammo Ban The most damaging bill that Gov. Brown did sign was Assembly Bill 711, which will phase out the use of lead in all hunting ammunition over the next several years.  California's complete statewide ban on lead in all hunting ammunition is the first of its kind in the nation and is not based on persuasive scientific evidence.  Its most likely effect will be to price many hunters out of the sport.

In California, the lead ammunition bill was supported by claims that a statewide prohibition was necessary to protect the endangered California condor. At public hearings, however, some of the "evidence" about the condors was exposed as intentional fraud. Even so, the ban is now unfortunately the law.

Nationally, radical environmental organizations like the misnamed "Center for Biological Diversity" have been pushing federal regulators to prohibit all lead ammunition--even for self-defense in the home. The new California ban doesn't go that far, but it is an ominous first step. Expect to see lead ammo bans introduced in state legislatures in the years to come, now that California has established this harmful and extreme precedent.

More Negatives Gov. Brown also signed some other bad bills: Assembly Bill 231 creates a new crime for storing a loaded firearm in a way that "is likely" to allow a child to gain access without parental permission. This could be a bonanza for abusive anti-gun prosecutors. The crime is considered to be committed regardless of whether any child actually touches the gun.

Brown also signed Senate Bill 683, which expands the current "safety certificate" requirement for all handgun buyers to cover all firearms, while outlawing some firearm loans among friends unless the borrower has a safety certificate. Firearm safety training is obviously a very good thing: The NRA has been the nation's leading gun safety organization since 1871. However, the exercise of the constitutional right to purchase, borrow or possess a firearm should not be conditioned on passing a government test.

Other Vetoes While Gov. Brown signed some bad bills, he vetoed a number of other anti-gun measures.

California law currently limits the sale of handguns to those guns that are on a roster of approved handguns. Persons who owned handguns that were legally acquired before the roster was created are already restricted in their ability to sell non-roster handguns. Assembly Bill 169 would have limited off-roster sales even further. Gov. Brown vetoed it because there was no evidence the additional restrictions would have helped public safety.

Almost all states have preemption laws to prohibit or limit local anti-gun ordinances. California's preemption laws are weak, but do provide some protection against anti-gun measures from city councils that despise the right to arms even more than the state legislature. Gov. Brown vetoed Assembly Bill 180, which would have authorized the Oakland local government to enact its own anti-gun ordinances. As Brown's veto noted, "California has among the strictest gun laws in the country." Allowing individual cities to create further ordinances would "sow confusion and uncertainty."

For the second year in a row, the governor vetoed a bill to criminally punish people who did not report a lost or stolen firearm within seven days.

Also, gun shows in California have long been subject to very stringent regulation, but this isn't enough for the people who hate gun owners--these extremists find the very notion of a gun show offensive and intolerable. Fortunately, Gov. Brown also vetoed a bill that would have allowed a local government ban on gun shows at the Cow Palace, a venerable arena bordering San Francisco.

Additionally, a few models of rifles have revolving cylinders and can fire either rifle or shotgun rounds. The governor vetoed a bill to outlaw these firearms, pointing out that the bill had "no identified impact on public safety." Rather, the vetoed S.B. 567 was another example of the gun prohibitionist strategy of attempting to outlaw any and every gun--on the theory that every law that prohibits a limited class of guns has "loopholes," requiring that still more guns be banned.

Senate Bill 755 would have imposed a 10-year ban on gun possession for certain misdemeanors, such as operating a boat while impaired by alcohol. "Impaired" is a lesser standard than "intoxicated." A person can be considered "impaired" after consuming as few as two drinks. The governor's veto stated that he did not believe that it was necessary to ban guns for crimes that are not felonies, not violent and do not involve misuse of a gun.

Because of the hard work of many California activists, there were many other bad bills introduced in the California legislature that never even made it to the governor's desk.

The gun prohibition lobbies attacked ammunition on a broad front, but all of their anti-ammunition bills were defeated, including a 5-cent tax on every round of ammunition, a 10 percent gross receipts tax on ammunition retailers, a requirement for permits to purchase ammunition, and a ban on mail-order or Internet ammunition sales.

Also defeated were state taxpayer subsidies for local programs asking citizens to surrender their firearms, along with a measure that would ban all new handgun sales. The handgun bill would have allowed the sale of new handguns only if they had owner recognition technology (e.g., a palm-print reader in the grip). This technology is unreliable and can fail to function in a self-defense emergency, which is why law enforcement officers resolutely refuse to use it.

Wrapping It Up The California Assembly and Senate are both more than 2-1 Democrat, and unlike in many other states, the California legislature does not have a strong cadre of pro-gun Democrats. Given the partisan numbers, and the gun prohibitionists' plans for exploiting the Newtown murders, the gun banners have to view the 2013 California legislative session as a disappointment. On the pro-Constitution side, the results certainly were a setback, but less ground was lost than might have been expected.

A decade ago, the Brady Campaign exulted that California had enacted almost everything that the group wanted. The group rated California's gun control laws among the very best in the nation. Obviously, California demonstrates that the anti-gun lobbies are insatiable in their desire to oppress gun owners. When they get everything they ask for, they will then demand much, much more.

The fight isn't over. In 2014, Michael Bloomberg will no longer be mayor of New York City, so he will be able to devote his full attention to dumping many millions of dollars into elections and into funding "Astroturf" grassroots anti-gun groups. The results of the 2014 elections will determine whether Bloomberg can create his new paradigm for politicians--that voting anti-gun is the politically safe thing to do.

What Bloomberg can't buy is the volunteer efforts of citizens who are motivated by patriotic love of their nation and our Constitution. If enough of us work hard enough in 2014, then it is possible that Bloomberg and his billions may be stopped.


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