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Understanding California’s New Gun Control Laws

Last year was the deadliest year for mass shootings in the history of the United States. The shootings in Las Vegas, the Texas Church shooting, the Fort-Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting and more contributed to a year with 345 mass shootings–nearly one a day. 14,000 were killed in these mass shootings this year and over 29,000 injured.

The U.S. far and away has the dubious distinction of the most gun deaths in general and most gun deaths per capita–nearly triple the next highest high income country. To put the above numbers in perspective, Japan expressed concern in 2016 as the yearly gun death total had risen from 8 to 27. With this in mind, effective gun control measures have been a hot topic of political discussion. The issue is obviously an extremely contentious one. However, it’s crucially important to find a way to eliminate the sheer number of these horrific shootings.

With this in mind, many states have introduced new gun control laws this year and others have updated existing laws. As an ongoing issue, many states such as California have laws that have been phasing in over the years. As the new year starts, California has had many of the elements of their newest gun control law–Proposition 63–take effect. Let’s look at the new provisions, the provisions that have already taken effect, the provisions that will take effect in the future, and the legal challenges the California laws already face.

gun controlCalifornia’s Gun Control Changes in 2018

As of January 1st, California’s Proposition 63 has had two big changes take effect–one limiting the sale of ammunition (especially important in light of the special tracer rounds ordered remotely in the Las Vegas mass shooting) and another requiring criminals to give up their firearms.

The ammunition changes require sales of ammunition to be processed through licensed vendors and conducted in person. This means you can’t purchase ammunition over the internet or from a catalogue–even if you buy it from out of state. Any ammunition purchased in this manner in California will have to be shipped to a licensed ammunition vendor and picked up at the store.

This particular provision is aimed, as mentioned above, squarely at the ability of a mass shooter to remotely stockpile enormous amounts of ammunition–over 1,500 rounds in the case of the Las Vegas shooter– without arousing suspicion. These rules are on top of other California laws forbidding direct mailing of ammunition.

The license requirement for ammunition sales only applies to vendors who sell more than 500 rounds of ammunition per month. These licenses are location specific and are obtained through the California Department of Justice after a background check on the licensee.

The second substantial change that began with the year puts a new mandatory rule in place under Proposition 63, requiring criminals convicted of certain types of crimes must turn over their firearms to the authorities. The rule also includes enforcement mechanisms to ensure this takes place. The biggest change here is the new enforcement mechanisms allowing law enforcement officers to make sure these criminals turn over their firearms.

Right now officers just have to go door to door to get these weapons, these newly adopted provisions of Proposition 63 changes this. The crimes that can trigger the law include most violent crimes, felonies, misdemeanors involving domestic violence, and illegal weapon use for example. As of January 1st, those convicted of one of these crimes are given a certain time period to provide proof that they sold or gave away their firearms. It is the job of probation officers and the courts to ensure compliance and act if they do not.

Elements Of Prop 63 Already Implemented

These two changes are newly implemented. However, several Proposition 63’s elements have been in effect for over a year. For example, in November of 2016 Proposition 63 made it illegal to sell or give ammunition to somebody to somebody when you have the knowledge that that person will give that ammunition to somebody otherwise not allowed to own a gun–a concept generally known in the law as selling to a straw purchaser. Proposition 63 also made it so that gun dealers were required to report the theft of ammunition to law enforcement in addition to the firearm theft reporting previously required. Finally, it made the theft of a firearm a felony in all circumstances–regardless of the value of the weapon.

July of 2017 brought several additional elements of Proposition 63 into effect. Firearm owners are themselves required to report the theft of one of their weapons within five days of discovering, or when they should have discovered, the theft or loss of the weapon.  The California Department of Justice was required to share with the FBI the personal information of anybody forbidden to own a firearm and continue state-run background checks t build a more comprehensive database of gun ownership. Finally, vendors who sell firearms need background checks from employees who handle ammunition or firearms.

Upcoming Provisions for 2019

Proposition 63 still has a few more provisions left to take effect. However, these last elements won’t take effect until 2019. First, the law will require ammunition vendors to track and record sales of ammunition and provide this information to the California DOJ just like they do with firearms sales. The vendors will also have to perform a background check before selling or transferring ammunition.

Finally, the law is scheduled to require those in possession of large capacity magazines (magazines with capacity for 10 or more rounds) to dispose of their magazines. While large capacity magazines (LCMs) have been illegal for some time, there was previously a loophole for those who already owned the magazines. This restriction, along with this loophole, has been the center of a serious legal case challenging the validity of Proposition 63 itself.

Prop 63 Currently in a Lawsuit Over Validity

Last June, Federal court judges were looking at a different part of Proposition 63’s LCM ban which was set to take effect in July of last year. These two judges came to two opposing conclusions–one ruling in favor of a temporary delay until a final decision was in place and the other allowing the ban to go forward under the premise that allowing a grandfathered loophole for LCMs made no sense as nobody could tell the difference between an LCM owned from before the ban and one that was illegally modified to hold 10 or more rounds. The judges noted the sheer number of mass shootings over the last several years but, ultimately, the LCM ban was slightly delayed.

The case is still ongoing, with filings made just a few months ago. However, similar efforts with the 9th Circuit–the Circuit governing California–have upheld similar LCM bans. This trend toward allowing this sort of ban has been upheld in many other cases across the country. Realistically, the LCM ban is likely to be upheld. What’s more it’s worth noting that California has banned the sale and manufacture of LCMs since the year 2000, Proposition 63 is exclusively closing the grandfathering loophole.

Regardless of the outcome of the case, it’s important to know both the law and your rights when it comes to firearm ownership wherever you live. What’s more, it’s important we enact laws that are effective in preventing mass shootings such as the many tragedies that have occurred over the last year. Proposition 63 is helping ensure responsible firearm ownership to do just that.

Jonathan Lurie


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