CA lawmakers at hearing aim at guns, not crooks

guns and american revolution, cagle, Dec. 24, 2012Jan. 30, 2013

By Katy Grimes

SACRAMENTO — There was no shortage of drama yesterday in a Capitol hearing about California’s gun laws. A show-and-tell, demonstration by the California Department of Justice, of several high-capacity rifles held the rapt attention of lawmakers.

A short documentary was shown of the survivors of the 1989 Cleveland Elementary school killings in Stockton, during which five children were murdered by a deranged shooter.

The prevailing theme for state Democrats during the three-hour hearing was that there are bad  guns and good guns, and the bad guns need to be outlawed.

They did not discuss that home robberies have increased in many cities in California. The typical home invasion consists of three to four perpetrators, armed with semiautomatic pistols or semiautomatic rifles, who force their way through the door of the home. Police report that the perpetrators do not care at all about gun laws, and are willing to kill. And since a felony murder charge already carries a life sentence or the death penalty, the gun crime is a freebie in sentencing.

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-San Diego, told me about a meeting he recently had with another lawmaker about gun bans. “What’s a good gun?” he asked. “The one which a single mother uses against an intruder to save her children.”

In reply, the other lawmaker told Anderson, “We just want to ban the bad guns.”

Opening statements set the bias

Nearly every lawmaker present at the Joint Committee on Public Safety made an opening statement which drew a line in the sand on their position. “Perhaps after the recent shootings, we’ve reached the tipping point,” said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, the committee’s co-chairwoman.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said certain laws may need to be tweaked, and asked everyone “to respect those with divergent views.”

“I am looking forward to engagement with regard to ammunition,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. De Leon has proposed regulating gun ammunition.

Freshman Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, R-Lake Elsinore, said the Newtown tragedy and the previous shooting in an Aurora, Colo. movie theater has reignited a national debate about how to prevent such senseless crimes. “While this is a highly emotional and political issue, we shouldn’t rush into passing measures that may sound or feel good, but do nothing to save lives,” Melendez said.

Melendez also reminded the committee that even the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence says California has the toughest gun laws in the country. “California’s laws already match U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposed law, and much of what President Obama wants.”

Interestingly, all of the Democratic lawmakers acknowledged during the hearing that California already has the toughest gun control laws in the nation, leaving many to wonder what the problem is.

What is the problem?

It quickly became apparent during the hearing that many legislators pushing for more gun control laws were trying to legislate a problem that does not exist. Or if there is a problem, it is that law enforcement is not following up on criminals who have guns.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, referred to Interstate 80 and several other state highways as “leakage” to other states. According to Skinner, Californians drive to nearby states to purchase guns, and then bring them back to California illegally.

The Department of Justice issues an annual report every year on firearms, and includes statistics about crimes committed in California with guns. “In the past 11 years, fewer than 60 crimes have been committed in California with assault rifles,” Sam Paredes with Gun Owners of California told me in an interview after the hearing. “Some years, zero crimes were committed with assault rifles.”

“Of the more than 170,000 legally registered assault rifles in California, not one has ever been involved in the commission of a crime.”

Paredes explained to the committee that much of what they think they know and have been told about guns is not correct. “It is already illegal for anyone to buy a handgun in another state and come back to California,” Paredes said. “Everyone must comply with the laws and procedures of this state.”

Several legislators said the National Rifle Association is trying to recruit members by attracting children. Paredes reminded lawmakers that the Boy Scouts of America has been teaching boys about guns for decades.

As for assault rifles, “The AR 15 and AK 47 are the single most popular guns in America,” Paredes said. “They are used for home defense, recreation, target shooting as well as personal defense. There are 40 million guns owned in California, and 400 million in the U.S. Homeland Security just bought 2,000 AR 15 guns for personal defense.”

No follow up on convicted criminals

While every lawmaker on the committee agreed that all efforts should be made to get and keep guns out of the hands of criminals, Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, asked some of the best questions of the hearing. Wright grilled Stephen Linley, Bureau of Firearms chief, about why his agency and state law enforcement do not follow up on criminals attempting to purchase guns and falsify the applications.

Linley admitted that California already has laws in place to deal with situations like this, and said they do not follow up in these cases.

Linley also told Wright the guns used in the commission of the majority of crimes in the state are handguns.

“The fact is that the person is the problem, not the gun,” Sen. Steve Knight, R-Antelope Valley, told me. “It is people committing these acts, not the guns.”

Knight said that, of all of the crimes committed in California, not one was committed by a person with a concealed carry permit.

California stiffened its criminal laws in the 1980’s, and made a point of not only identifying criminals, but puting them in prison when they were caught breaking the law. Knight said that, in order to bring down the violent crime rate, when criminals are caught using a weapon during the commission of a crime, they need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law instead of getting plea deals from district attorneys.

Knight added, “Laws that punish law abiding citizens are not the answer to reducing crime in the United States.”

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