By far the statewide initiative that should draw the most attention this November is the one introduced by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom entitled the “Safety for All Initiative” which would require background checks on all bullet buyers, prohibit the sale of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, make gun thefts a felony, and disqualify certain individuals from possessing firearms.
The legislature, however, decided to beat Newsom to the punch and the Senate passed a slew of bills that strengthen firearms regulations which must now go to the Assembly.
Some of the measures are duplicative while others go further such as expanding the state’s assault weapons ban to include firearms that can be quickly reloaded and restricting gun-lending to immediate family members.
But Dan Newman, an initiative advocate, counters that it contains provisions missing from the legislative proposals such as a mandate to report lost or stolen ammunition, and requiring those on a “prohibited owners” list to relinquish their firearms.
Legislators are asking Newsom to cease and desist from pushing his measure which has received enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot and await further legislative action.
But the leadership is in conflict.
Senate President, Pro Tem, Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) is concerned that the initiative could stimulate turnout for GOP presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who is likely to get backing from pro-gun conservatives and put Democratic seats at risk.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) disagrees saying, “As far as gun issues are concerned, our data shows that voters at the polls in November are more likely to reflect the views of (gun control advocates) then they are ardent gun owners.”
Newsom is so far sticking to his guns (pun intended) and is stumping for his initiative. One reason is his interest in assuming the Governorship in 2018 in a campaign that has already begun and could attract some formidable competitors.
With the focus on gun violence becoming a staple of American life not likely to change very soon, and with a majority of California voters favoring tougher gun controls, Newsom’s gambit could eventually pay off.
California is already in the forefront of states with stricter gun regulations although it was recently outdone by Hawaii whose governor, Daniel Ige, made history in the aftermath of the Orlando killings by signing into law a bill that will make his state the nation’s first to enter its gun owners into a FBI database.
If you want further reasons for California’s civic consciousness look no further than Congress which in spite of the mounting death toll from gun-induced mass killings has once again seemingly bowed to the NRA and pro-gun advocates in failing to take decisive action to prevent the spread of deadly weapons.
Chaos reigned on the House floor this week as Democrats, frustrated with the unwillingness of the leadership to hold a debate let alone bring a gun control bill forward for a vote, staged an historic sit-in to demonstrate disgust with the proceedings.
Rep. Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro) may have spoken for many when she said, “The American people are sick of silence. They are demanding that Congress take action and protect their families. This nation has just witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in history and more people are dying every day. If we do not take action now, when will we?”
That same refrain was heard four years ago in December 2012 when 20 elementary school children were gunned down in Newtown, Connecticut.
However with the presidential election campaign about to go into full swing and with both House and Senate seats at stake, fear of the voter’s wrath might overcome doctrinal inflexibility just enough to forge some compromises—-a feat which has eluded Congress in recent years.
The Senate which this past week voted down five separate measures aimed at gun control reform including a bipartisan bill offered by GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine would have to take the lead.
There may be some light down the tunnel if Sen. Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell’s words can be taken seriously:”Nobody wants terrorists to have firearms,” he said, “We’re open to serious suggestions from the experts as to what we might be able to do to be helpful.”
House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, is asking for a vote on a “no fly, no buy” bill, similar to the one introduced by Sen. Collins which contains provisions that would have kept the Orlando killer, Omar Mateen, on the no-fly list longer than two years thereby preventing him from legally buying the assault weapons which left 49 people dead and 43 others wounded.
The mounting statistics are grim: Across America 6,381 gun deaths have been reported to date in 2016. Compare this to the 44,424 Americans who died in the Vietnam War over a 20 year period. (1955-1975). Vietnam War. . It is estimated there are today 300 million guns in circulation and sales are on the upswing.
When the Second Amendment to the Constitution speaks in its opening words of “A well regulated militia being necessary” as the basis “for the right of the People to keep and bear arms….”it probably did not have in mind a fully armed nation of 322 million.
A little bit of judicial perspective is useful here:
In a book published in 2010 entitled “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution”, former Supreme Court Associate Justice, John Paul Stevens (1975-2010), appointed by President. Gerald Ford, wrote:
“For more than 200 years following the adoption of that amendment, federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by that text was limited in two ways: First, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms.”
Stevens continues, “Thus, in United States v. Miller, decided in 1939, the court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that sort of weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated Militia.”
In 2008 by a vote of 5 to 4 in which Douglas dissented, the Supreme Court decided in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects a civilian’s right to keep a handgun in his home for purposes of self-defense.
And in 2010, by another vote of 5 to 4, where Douglas was again in the minority, the court decided in McDonald v. Chicago that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment limits the power of the city of Chicago to outlaw the possession of handguns by private citizens.
Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on “The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,” former Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by President Richard Nixon, remarked that the Second Amendment “has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
He was referring in part to the National Rifle Association.
This controversial amendment suddenly the object of ever more heated debate has been defined otherwise by those favoring less gun regulation who view the Douglas/Burger interpretation as an assault on civil liberties.
In the blunt words of state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber), “These bills (referring to those just passed out of the state Senate) will disarm the law-abiding….and criminals will exploit these bills.”
Chuck Michel, California co-chair for the Coalition for Civil Liberties, and an opponent of the Newsom initiative, states, “Gavin Newsom’s political maneuver will be defeated because it does nothing to stop the next ISIS-inspired attack.”
The adoption of automobile safety belts has not reduced the number of horrific accidents, but there have been fewer fatalities and critical injuries as a result.
While fewer guns will not deter every demented, angry, or radicalized individual from committing criminal acts, the unwillingness to limit their numbers, types, access and usage defies rationality.
It is fitting that I cite the late Justice, Antonin Scalia, the intellectual leader of the Court’s conservative wing, who in writing for the majority in Miller, declared the ban on handguns in private homes unconstitutional, but conceded that gun regulation was compatible with the Second Amendment:
He went on to say, “We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. ‘Miller’ said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those ‘in common use at the time.’ We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’
Scalia’s attempt to resolve the ambiguity in this Amendment gives a big boost to stricter gun control advocates.
Stevens would solve the problem by adding 5 words through a constitutional amendment which would read:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”
Congress has a more immediate problem which is to stop the in-fighting and demonstrate that it takes very seriously what has happened in Orlando, Newtown, Blacksburg, San Bernardino, Ft. Hood, Aurora and who knows where next.
Meanwhile, California, whether it be through the initiative process or by legislative enactment, can once more be a shining beacon of progress as the Congress struggles to overcome its differences.
As one Bay area legislator, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-2nd District) has put it, “I will keep pushing reforms in every way possible. But realistically, the way we’re going to change national policy on gun violence is by winning elections this fall.”
That should give pause to members of both parties!