Polls show that Californians have consistently supported tougher gun control measures in a state which has already adopted the strictest regulations in the nation and in 1989 was the first to ban assault weapons.
This will not deter staunch Second Amendment advocates and the National Rifle Association which is gearing up to mount an intensive campaign to defeat Proposition 63, known as the Safety for All Initiative, which will be on the November ballot.
The principal author is Ross resident, Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom. Having his name attached is comparable to waving a red flag at a bull for voters sufficiently vexed over other social reforms the former San Francisco mayor has advanced such as full gay rights which are now the law of the land.
Though Governor Jerry Brown—a gun owner himself— recently signed into law nearly a half dozen gun control measures in what he called a “responsible and focused manner while protecting the rights of law –abiding gun owners,” Newsom is not backing down.
Brown’s approval of this legislation which some believe came only after Newsom’s up-front crusading brought strong outcries from opponents such as GOP Assembly Member, Shannon Grove, of Bakersfield who commented, “The governor and legislature exploited a terrorist attack (referring to the San Bernardino incident in December where 14 were killed) to push these measures.”
Since then 49 more lives were lost in the horrific massacre in Orlando, Florida with gun violence continuing to erupt in many communities.
While a central goal of both Brown’s approach and the Newsom measure is to prohibit large capacity ammunition magazines, Prop. 63 goes further, making firearms theft punishable as a felony and requires that lost or stolen weapons be reported within 48 hours.
It also imposes more stringent background checks on those with criminal records who can purchase illegal firearms repeatedly with relative ease if they have already gotten ownership approval.
Convicted felons must also relinquish their weapons which do not have to be surrendered under the court system’s current workings.
Skeptics question whether any of these reforms will do much to prevent further mass shootings and argue that these restrictions will only compromise the rights of California families to protect themselves.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence counters that gun death rates have fallen 56% in California from 1993 to 2010 as a result of tougher laws.
Though polls show Californians including gun owners favorable to regulations that will keep dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands, Newsom’s initiative could also bring more Democrats to the polls in November. Of course it could likewise energize conservative voters to come out in larger numbers in what is already a heated presidential election.
The impacts could be especially significant in the state’s most narrowly contested congressional races which may hold the key to whether House Democrats regain control of the House with the prospect of returning liberal San Francisco Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, to the speakership hanging in the balance.
This would require a 30 vote turnover—a very tall order no longer thought to be inconceivable as a growing number of GOP incumbents are fleeing association with a radical and reckless presidential nominee who will be heading their ticket.
In 1994 many Democrats blamed their defeats and the loss of the House majority on the congressional ban on assault weapons which went into effect that year. After its expiration in 2004, repeated attempts to revive it have failed with Democrats skittish about adopting reforms and Republicans reluctant to challenge the NRA.
That may be changing in 2016 after the mounting death toll from gun-related killings that will force vulnerable candidates to choose between the NRA and political survival.
This has not deterred Donald Trump from advocating that firearms be allowed even in school classrooms—a position that helped earn him the enthusiastic endorsement of the NRA. Even some of the most ardent gun enthusiasts may find that hard to swallow.
Of course a strong showing for Prop 63 would not hurt Newsom who is seeking the governorship in 2018.
However what sells in California is not necessarily popular in other states where gun laws are more lax. In Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Texas and Tennessee concealed weapons are permitted both in bars and on college campuses—a practice frowned upon here.
Still, Hillary Clinton who criticized her primary opponent, Bernie Sanders, for failing to endorse tougher gun control measures in Vermont will take little risk if she expresses support for Prop 63 in a state where she may already have a lock on the electoral votes.
Correspondingly Trump will not have to pander to the state’s Second Amendment zealots who have nowhere else to go in November.
The bigger question is whether candidates in the nation’s most conservative regions under Republican control are willing to buck their party, the NRA and their presidential nominee on the best means of controlling the spread of illegal weapons and curbing gun violence.