California ballot measure seeks to tighten strict gun laws

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a gun control advocacy group are proposing a 2016 ballot initiative to strengthen the state's gun control laws by restricting ammunition sales, barring possession of large-capacity assault-style magazines and requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to law enforcement. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SACRAMENTO — The lieutenant governor of the state with some of the strictest gun laws in the nation announced a voter initiative Thursday aiming to create even greater restrictions, including making California the only state to require on-the-spot background checks for ammunition sales.

The measure drafted by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, also would require owners to turn in large-capacity magazines and report when their weapons are stolen. It comes in the wake of high-profile killings nationwide and three in the San Francisco Bay Area that were tied to stolen guns.

The strict ammunition rule follows a similar New York law passed shortly after the 2012 shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., that was suspended several months ago. Four states — Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts and New Jersey — require ammunition purchasers to obtain permits ahead of time, according to the initiative’s supporters.

Newsom is partnering with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence on the November 2016 ballot initiative, which also allows him to remain visible ahead of a gubernatorial run. Newsom, an early advocate of gay marriage, also is advocating to legalize recreational marijuana in California.

“Stuff doesn’t just have to happen,” Newsom said Thursday, responding to comments by Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush about a recent mass shooting on an Oregon college campus. “We have the ability to step in with some common sense. We have the ability to protect our families.”

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Amy Hunter said Newsom’s effort would chip away at Second Amendment rights.

“His ballot initiative proposal does nothing but prohibit access to the most effective methods for self-defense, with no measurable positive effect on stopping crime or improving public safety,” Hunter said.

The initiative would ask voters to make five changes to state law:

— Ban possession of large-capacity magazines with 11 rounds or more. Owners would be required to sell them to a licensed firearms dealer, take them out of state or turn them in to law enforcement to be destroyed. State law already bans manufacturing or selling magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

— Create background checks for ammunition purchases. Ammunition dealers would need to conduct a background check at the point of sale for all ammunition, and dealers would need a license similar to those required to sell firearms.

— Require reports on lost and stolen guns. California would join 11 other states in requiring that lost or stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement.

— Require felons to relinquish weapons. California courts would set up a clear process on surrendering guns. The measure’s authors say that more than 17,000 Californians prohibited from owning firearms currently have guns.

— Ensure reports to the federal firearms database. The California Department of Justice would have to notify the federal government on residents who are prohibited from owning guns. Now, the state reports voluntarily.

Gun control advocates welcomed California’s proposal, pointing to the lack of political will at the federal level. Newsom made his announcement in San Francisco near the site of a 1993 gun massacre that helped spur federal restrictions on assault weapons.

“Congress has failed to pass even the most basic laws to help keep guns out of dangerous hands and save lives,” said Kate Folmar, spokeswoman for Everytown for Gun Safety, a group founded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “The states have and will continue to take action to reduce gun violence despite the gridlock in Washington.”

Brandon Combs, president of the Firearms Policy Coalition, pledged to campaign against the proposal.

“If Gavin Newsom wants to declare war on law-abiding gun owners and Second Amendment rights, we’re certainly going to bring the fight to him,” he said.

Polls have shown California voters are generally more supportive of restricting access to guns than voters in other states.

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