San Bernardino Shooting

Pictures of last week’s shooting victims are displayed at a makeshift memorial site Monday in San Bernardino. Legislators are considering more restrictions on the purchase of ammunition and rifle magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets. (Jae C. Hong – The Associated Press)

Capitol Alert
By Christopher Cadelago
ccadelago@sacbee.com
December 8, 2015

  • California has stringent restrictions
  • Some want them to be even stronger
  • Recent shooting underscores their limits

California lawmakers have acted repeatedly to give the state what are considered the nation’s strictest gun laws.

So, how was it that guns obtained here legally came to be used in the worst terror attack on domestic soil since Sept. 11?

In the days following the events in San Bernardino, in which 14 people were killed and 21 injured, state elected officials have advocated for stronger local and federal laws. And the massacre, carried out by a married couple and branded an “act of terrorism” by President Barack Obama, is forcing state officials to once again confront questions about how, for all its firm statutes, assault-style rifles have been able to proliferate.

“California always prides itself on its leadership, and we have done some heroic things on gun safety in the past,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said. “But the bar is not as high as it should be.”

California became the first state to prohibit semiautomatic rifles after five children were gunned down by a man with a semi-automatic AK-47 in the 1989 shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton.

Over time, the state came to ban three major categories of assault weapons: those specified by name such as the Colt AR-15; the AK and AR-15 series; and semi-automatic rifles with the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and features such as a pistol grip or telescoping stock. Also banned are semi-automatic rifles with fixed magazines in excess of 10 rounds and semi-automatic, center-fire rifles with overall lengths of less than 30 inches.

There remains a loophole in regulation, however, allowing people to modify their guns to make them even more powerful.

Ari Freilich of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence said gun manufacturers have introduced “California-compliant” assault weapons. In many cases, there is only one difference between those firearms and what are legally considered assault weapons: Instead of using a finger to easily detach and reload the magazine, one must use a bullet to press a button to do so. Under the regulations interpreting the law, California’s Justice Department does not consider it an assault weapon if it requires a tool to remove the magazine, Freilich said. “And a bullet is unfortunately considered a ‘tool’ due to that loophole.”

“These are essentially assault weapons,” he said. “It is clearly the spirit and intent of California’s leadership to remove military-grade weaponry that can fire at such a high capacity and can be reloaded so quickly that really its only purpose is to inflict mass carnage in as short a time as possible.”

In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a measure, Senate Bill 374, that would have closed the loophole by treating semi-automatic rifles that accept a detachable magazine as assault weapons. A separate effort died before getting to his desk.

To read expanded article, click here.