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The Quad: An examination of firearm policy in the state of California

There is no law dictating the amount of guns a person can own, but the nature of the firearms, including assault weapons, makes the collection illegal. (Liz Ketcham/Assistant Photo editor)

By Amanda Houtz

May. 23, 2019 4:03 pm

There’s nothing like a massive weapons bust to further inflame the hot-button issue of gun control.

Over 1,000 guns were seized May 8 from a home in Holmby Hills – a neighborhood not far from UCLA’s campus. The Los Angeles Police Department told CBS News that Girard Damien Saenz was arrested on the suspicion that he possessed assault weapons that he was both selling and creating.

Though the quantity of the weapons amassed in one home is undeniably large, the number is as striking for the average citizen as it is legal. However, despite Saenz’s collection being quantitatively legal, the inclusion of assault weapons in this collection makes it qualitatively illegal.

In California, certain weapons including shotguns with revolving cylinders, AK series and Colt AR-15 firearms, semiautomatic shotguns with the capacity for a detachable magazine and other such instruments are designated as assault weapons.

Currently, there is no law in California that limits the quantity of guns that a person can possess. The only restriction in this area, pursuant to Penal Code 27535, is that individuals cannot apply to purchase more than one handgun per 30-day period. There are no restrictions on the quantity of rifles and shotguns an individual can purchase nor on the timeframe with which they can purchase them.

Mark Peterson, a professor of political science focuses on the presidency, congress, interest groups and healthcare reform in his research. He highlights the diversity in attitudes regarding gun control – even in California.

“(The) center of gravity of California is very different from the center of gravity of Arkansas or South Dakota,” Peterson said. But within California, there is a vast difference between people’s attitudes in Los Angeles from the Central Valley or the most northern regions of the state in the rural mountains.”

In spite of these differing opinions, California is reputed to have the strictest gun laws in the United States.

Federal law differs from California law in several key areas. First, California restricts the number of handguns an individual can purchase at one time in contrast with federal law within which there is no such restriction. Also, assault weapons are prohibited in California, whereas they are legal at the federal level.

California earned its tough-on-guns reputation through various means. The reputation is upheld in part through California’s regulation of the gun purchasing process.

Citizens must adhere to a number of certain requirements in order to complete the buying, selling and transferring of firearms in California. One such requirement is that a licensed dealer, who adheres to the Dealer’s Record of Sale process, must orchestrate nearly all purchases and transfers of firearms. There is then a 10-day waiting period before the firearm is given to the recipient.

Potential purchasers must provide proof of California residency and, unless exempt, must have a Handgun Safety Certificate and complete a safety demonstration. Purchasers of firearms must also be at least 21 years of age. This was initiated by Senate Bill 1100, passed in September 2018, which raised the age of firearm ownership from 18 to 21.

In addition, there are certain categorical restrictions regulating who can possess a firearm. For example, individuals that have been convicted of a felony, who are addicted to narcotics or who have given up their U.S. citizenship, are prohibited from owning a firearm in California.

In addition to established laws, California continues to implement legislation to tighten gun control and promote gun safety. In fact, there are several pieces of gun-related legislation that became effective just in 2019.

AB 1968 puts a lifetime ban on firearm ownership for individuals that have been in a mental health facility one or more times in a year. Individuals affected by this law are allowed to petition the court for a hearing to attempt to get the ban lifted.

AB 2103 specifies the requirements for obtaining a license to carry a concealed weapon. Among other things, the bill requires training to be at least eight hours and to include lessons on firearm safety and the laws pertaining to legal use of firearms.

Finally, SB 1235 amends the Safety for All Act of 2016 to require ammunition to be sold only to individuals who are deemed eligible to purchase ammunition by the Automated Firearms System, individuals with a department-issued certificate of eligibility or those who purchase ammunition in an approved single transaction.

These bills turned laws represent only a sample of the gun legislation passed recently. Therefore, in tandem with other pieces of recent gun legislation, it is clear that California is making progress toward implementing a comprehensive set of laws to attempt to ensure gun safety.

Despite these efforts, the fact remains that at present a man was able to amass a collection of over 1,000 weapons – a quantity that is inherently dangerous yet theoretically legal. However, it must be noted that this collection in particular is illegal due to its violation of California’s ban on possessing, manufacturing and selling assault weapons.

The lack of California law in this area is echoed by the larger lack of gun control legislation at the national level. However, Peterson said that differing attitudes currently have not been given the proper platform for reconciliation.

“The whole politics of guns has been wrapped up in making sure that those conversations don’t happen that allow for a more understanding approach to how can we solve or how can we at least make some advances in gun safety while not seeming to infringe on someone’s understanding of how guns play a role in their life and a role in America,” Peterson said.

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Amanda Houtz | Blogging editor
Houtz is a staff member in the Blogging section of the Daily Bruin.
Houtz is a staff member in the Blogging section of the Daily Bruin.
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