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Editorial

Grandstanding on gun control

California stands to benefit more from enforcing its strict gun laws than from passing new ones that would not address loopholes.

February 01, 2013
  • A bill from California Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) would help officials track firearms that were bought legally but whose owners were later convicted of felonies or diagnosed with mental illness.
A bill from California Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and President… (Los Angeles Times )

The national effort to crack down on gun violence being led by President Obama is generating encouraging discussion in Congress, where until recently the subject of gun control had been largely taboo. That's good news. On the minus side, there's what is happening in California.

Don't get us wrong, there are some worthwhile bills floating around in Sacramento. But most of the bills either introduced or under proposal seem primarily designed to seize headlines on behalf of individual lawmakers in the aftermath of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre. As much as we support stricter gun-control laws, we don't want just any old bill to pass; we want laws that will help solve demonstrable problems. California already ranks No. 1 in the nation when it comes to strict gun laws, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. If the rest of the nation took actions as strong as the Golden State already has, interstate gun trafficking would be far more difficult and the entire country would be immeasurably safer.

So does California need to do even more? To some degree, yes. There are still loopholes that allow felons and the mentally ill to acquire guns, and where possible, these should be closed. But most of the bills that are currently being considered wouldn't address them, and in many ways the state would be better off enforcing the laws already on the books than imposing new ones.

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As just one example of a questionable bill, there is AB 48 from Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), which would apply to the sale of ammunition many of the same requirements the state now imposes when guns are sold, such as licensing sellers and requiring sales to be reported to the Department of Justice. The cost of all that? Unknown. A proposal from Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), meanwhile, would tax ammunition sales to pay for screening young children for mental illness. Yes, there is a connection between mental illness and mass murder, but it takes a flight of fancy to see this as a reasonable use for a tax that would mainly be paid by hunters.

Again, that's not to say there isn't room for progress. Imposing higher taxes on ammunition is a fine idea if the proceeds are spent on something more directly related, such as preventing gun violence. Also promising is a bill from state Sens. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) and President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) that would help officials pay for tracking and seizing firearms that were bought legally but whose owners were later convicted of felonies or diagnosed with mental illness. Although it would cost an estimated $25 million to clear the backlog of these gun owners within three years, the lawmakers think they've found a funding source in a $20-million surplus in the account in which fees are deposited when gun buyers register for new purchases. They should pursue it.

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