"For too long, too much ground has been ceded in this debate about reasonable… (Nick Ut / Associated Press )
SACRAMENTO — A group of California lawmakers responded Tuesday to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., with a series of proposals to further control access to weapons, including mandatory permits with fees and background checks for anyone who wants to buy bullets.
Tougher gun permit and safety measures, as well as a plan to close a loophole in the state's assault weapons ban, were also proposed.
California has been fighting in court for years with the National Rifle Assn. and other groups over an earlier, landmark law to restrict handgun ammunition sales. The state has been unable to enforce the law since 2010 because of the litigation.
"For too long, too much ground has been ceded in this debate about reasonable gun and ammunition control," said Sen. Kevin De Leon, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus.
The Democrat from Los Angeles is leading the effort for new regulations on ammunition sales, which he said Tuesday would be dedicated to those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. "We must not capitulate any longer."
He said his new proposal addresses concerns raised by the courts that the existing law does not clearly define what constitutes handgun ammunition.
The rules proposed by De Leon would apply to ammunition for all guns.
California lawmakers have repeatedly implemented strict rules on gun ownership despite the state's large population of hunters and recreational shooters, and constant wrangling with the NRA.
The nonprofit Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which lobbies for restrictions on firearm ownership, ranks California No. 1 among states.
Bans on assault weapons and ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds, as well as a strong background check requirement, retention of records on gun buyers and a 10-day waiting period for purchasing firearms helped earn California the distinction.
De Leon wants an annual permit fee of up to $50 to pay for felony and mental illness background checks. Those buying ammunition on the Internet would have to collect the bullets at a gun store, where the permit would be required.
C.D. Michel, the lawyer who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. Foundation — the NRA's California affiliate — said Tuesday that the senator's latest proposal might also be illegal.
"You can't tax the exercise of a fundamental constitutional right," he said.
Others questioned the effectiveness of the proposed law.
"Anybody who wants to can drive to Reno or Las Vegas or Oregon and buy all the ammunition they want and bring it back to California," said Sam Paredes, executive director of the advocacy group Gun Owners of California.
Gov. Jerry Brown has not always embraced anti-gun legislation. He vetoed a measure lawmakers passed last year aimed at addressing the legal issues bedeviling the existing restrictions on ammunition purchases.
"Let's keep our powder dry … until the court case runs its course," Brown wrote in his veto message.
De Leon said the politics of such bills had changed with the Connecticut shooting.
"They were mowed down," he said of the Newtown children. "I think that viscerally it will give a lot of political officials around the country the political courage to do the right thing."
Los Angeles and Sacramento require fingerprinting of ammunition buyers. The Sacramento Police Department found that 349 felons and other prohibited buyers purchased ammunition in that city from 2008 to 2011. Officers were able to go after the violators.
State Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) this week proposed three gun-control bills, including one prohibiting devices on semiautomatic weapons that allow them to be easily reloaded with multiple rounds of ammunition.
He also proposed requiring yearly registration and background checks for gun ownership, rather than just at the time of purchase. Yee also proposed that all guns have a locked trigger and be properly stored in a lock box when not in use.
Republican Sen. Ted Gaines of Roseville announced Tuesday his proposal to permanently ban from owning guns mentally ill people whom a court deems to be a danger to others.
Gaines said current law allowed those people to regain the right to possess firearms if they completed treatment.