California Gun Laws Targeted After Sandy Hook Shooting

California Lawmakers Target Gun Laws
FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 file photo, a customer checks out a shotgun at Burdett & Son Outdoor Adventure Shop in College Station, Texas. The divide between those who favor gun control and those who don't has existed for decades, separating America into hostile camps of conservative vs. liberal, rural vs. urban. As the nation responds to the massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., the gulf has rarely felt wider than now. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)
FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 file photo, a customer checks out a shotgun at Burdett & Son Outdoor Adventure Shop in College Station, Texas. The divide between those who favor gun control and those who don't has existed for decades, separating America into hostile camps of conservative vs. liberal, rural vs. urban. As the nation responds to the massacre of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn., the gulf has rarely felt wider than now. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

Responding to calls for change in the wake of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., California lawmakers have begun efforts to strengthen state and federal gun legislation.

State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, plans to reintroduce a bill that he submitted last year to toughen safety requirements. He said current law requires gun owners to have a trigger lock or safety lock box but doesn't require use of a safety device on an idle firearm.

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., has announced that she plans to reintroduce legislation this month banning assault weapons. A semi-automatic assault weapon ban contained within the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 expired in 2004.

The Ventura City Council has on its Monday agenda plans to consider a resolution showing its support for Feinstein's bill.

California gun owners must comply with myriad federal and state laws. Here's a breakdown of some of them:

Federal law

Just as all Americans do, Californians enjoy the "right of the people to keep and bear arms," under the Second Amendment to the Constitution. California is one of a handful of states that don't have similar right-to-arms provisions in their state constitutions, but that omission does not invalidate the Second Amendment guarantee.

Included under the federal umbrella is the Gun Control Act of 1968 and the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, implemented in 1994, which requires licensed sellers to do background checks on gun purchasers through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives enforces the federal laws, including the following, according to the ATF and the nonprofit Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

Permits: The federal government does not issue carrying permits. State and local governments issue them.

Seller licensing: Manufacturers, importers and dealers in the firearms business must be licensed by the ATF.

Eligibility: Those who may not possess a firearm include felons, fugitives, drug addicts, people committed to mental institutions and illegal immigrants. Also ineligible are people who have been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, U.S. citizens who have renounced their citizenship, people subject to a court order for harassment and anyone convicted of domestic violence.

Age requirements: You must be at least 18 to possess long guns (rifles) and at least 21 to possess a handgun. If state and local ordinances establish higher minimum ages, the higher age requirements apply.

Mailing guns: Guns may be shipped through the U.S. mail but the sender and recipient must comply with certain statutory requirements.

Background checks and licensed sellers: Licensed firearms dealers must perform background checks and maintain records of gun sales. The checks are done via NICS, which is managed by the FBI.

Background checks and unlicensed sellers: Unlicensed (private) firearms sellers don't have to perform background checks or maintain records of gun sales. The current status of the law is known to gun control activists as the "gun show" loophole.

Waiting period: There is no federal waiting period.

Assault weapons: There is no federal ban on assault weapons. A 10-year ban put in place in 1994 expired in 2004.

California law

California has added its own laws to the federal laws, dating back to the early part of the 20th century. The 1923 Uniform Firearms Act, which prohibits handgun possession by convicted felons, required firearms dealers to be licensed and required handguns to have serial numbers.

In 1989, the state enacted the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act to control assault weapons after a shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton. On Jan. 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy stuck plugs in his ears, drove to the rear of the school and raked the playground with more than 100 rounds from a semi-automatic AK-47 rifle. Before killing himself, he killed five children and injured 29 others.

California's extensive gun laws are praised by gun-control groups like the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which gives California an A minus grade based on the strength of its firearms restrictions. Similarly, the nonprofit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence praises California for laws concerning background checks, retention of purchase records and for limiting handgun purchases to one a month.

C.D. Michel, spokesman for the California Rifle and Pistol Association and author of a book on California's gun laws, said that before an overhaul in 2012 that centralized definitions, the state's gun laws were extremely confusing. Michel compares California's old gun statutes to the state's environmental and tax codes.

"It had become such a mishmash," he said. "So they revised the entire Dangerous Weapon Control Act to make it more simple for Joe Sixpack to understand."

The state Bureau of Firearms regulates and enforces laws concerning the manufacture, sales, ownership, safety training and transfer of firearms in California.

Here are some of California's restrictions, according to the bureau and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence:

Seller licensing: All firearms purchases and transfers, including private party transactions and sales at gun shows, must be made through a licensed dealer.

Permits: Concealed weapon permits are issued only by a county sheriff to residents of the county, or by the head of a city police department to residents of that city.

Eligibility: In general, people ineligible to possess firearms and ammunition are those who have been convicted of a felony or certain misdemeanors, are on probation, are subject to a protective or temporary restraining order, have been to juvenile court or are a mental patient.

Age requirements: California prohibits the sale of handguns to anyone under age 21, and prohibits selling, loaning or transferring any firearm to a minor, interpreted to mean under age 18. There is no minimum age to possess rifles and shotguns in California, although federal age restrictions still apply.

Background checks: Although states can use the federal NICS system at no charge, California conducts its own background checks. Benjamin Van Houten, managing attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, said the FBI has found that "state background checks are more thorough than those performed by the FBI because the states can access their independent criminal history database in addition to the databases maintained by NICS."

Microstamping: In 2007, California became the first state to enact legislation requiring handgun microstamping, an array of characters that imprint on each cartridge case when the gun is fired. Microstamping enables law enforcement to use California's handgun purchaser database to match cartridge cases found at crime scenes to the gun's purchaser. Implementation of the microstamping law has been delayed until the Attorney General's Office is sure the technology is unencumbered by patent restrictions.

Handgun limits: California limits purchasers to one handgun per person per month.

Waiting period: California imposes a 10-day waiting period before a firearm can be sold or transferred.

Assault weapons: With limited exceptions, California has banned assault weapons, 50-caliber rifles and large capacity ammunition magazines. The California attorney general specifies "assault weapons" in a 95-page guide.

Gun shows: California gun shows have been regulated since 1999, when broad legislation was enacted increasing oversight. All firearms transfers at gun shows must be processed through a licensed firearms dealer, who must comply with all applicable laws, ordinances, regulations, and fees, including California's waiting period law.

Open carrying: A 2011 law generally prohibits carrying exposed and unloaded handguns in public places. The prohibition is subject to a number of exceptions.

Concealed carrying: California prohibits carrying loaded, concealed firearms in public without a concealed weapons license. California is a "may-issue" state, meaning that local law enforcement has discretion to issue the license after the applicant is found to meet certain requirements, like completing a firearms safety course.

Cities and counties

Local municipalities are limited in what they can regulate and may not interfere with state law. For instance, local governments aren't permitted to regulate the licensing or registration of firearms in California.

In 2005, the city and county of San Francisco attempted to ban and confiscate all handguns except those used by police and security officials, but the state courts struck down the ban as pre-empted by state law. ___

(c)2013 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.)

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