California seeks new gun restrictions following shootings

Jan 31, 2023, 9:40 PM | Updated: Feb 1, 2023, 4:07 pm
California Gov. Gavin Newsom answers questions at a press conference to push for the passing of Sen...

California Gov. Gavin Newsom answers questions at a press conference to push for the passing of Senate Bill 2 in Sacramento, Calif., on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. Newsom wants to limit where people can carry concealed guns. His Wednesday endorsement of legislation follows several high profile mass shootings that left dozens dead across the state in January. The proposal would ban people from carrying concealed guns in churches, public libraries, private businesses, and other places. (Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

(Renée C. Byer/The Sacramento Bee via AP)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California could soon ban people from carrying guns in nearly all public places as Gov. Gavin Newsom and his allies in the state Legislature seek to test the limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new conservative majority in the aftermath of six mass shootings last month that left 29 people dead

Churches, public libraries, zoos, amusement parks, playgrounds, banks and all other privately owned businesses that are open to the public would be gun-free zones — even for people who have a permit to carry concealed guns — under new legislation announced Wednesday. The one exception would be for business owners or churches who put up a sign that guns are OK on their property.

“You don’t need a gun to go to Dodger Stadium or to your daughter’s AYSO soccer game,” said Anthony Portantino, a Democratic state senator from La Cañada Flintridge and the author of the bill.

The bill is California’s next move in its chess match with the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority over guns and where people are allowed to have them. Last year, the court struck down California’s rules that required a person to give a reason for wanting a permit to carry a concealed gun — such as a threat to their safety.

That ruling set new standards for how states can regulate guns. This proposal is California’s response to those new standards, a carefully crafted bill supporters believe complies with the court’s ruling while also imposing tough new restrictions.

Portantino, who recently announced a run for Congress, said he wrote the bill expecting it to be challenged in court. While the bill would ban people from carrying guns in nearly all public places, it includes a broad exception for business owners who put up a sign saying guns are OK on their property.

“By having that provision, you can’t argue that it’s a total prohibition,” Portantino said. “You can’t argue that it’s somehow so prescriptive that people can’t have some sovereignty over the issue, and I think that’s a legal nuance that I think helps it with constitutional muster.”

Gun rights groups don’t buy it. Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said his group has a lawsuit already written and ready to file the moment the bill is signed into law. He said in other states, the law is to make business owners put up a sign if they don’t want concealed guns allowed.

“That flips the Second Amendment on its head,” he said. “By doing it the other way, they are hoping that they can criminalize possession in more places.”

The bill would also make lots of changes to how people can apply for a permit to carry a concealed gun in California. No one could get a permit if they are younger than 21. People would no longer have to give a reason for wanting a concealed weapon permit — like fearing for their safety — but they would still have to tell authorities about all of their prior arrests, convictions and restraining orders.

Plus, they would have to submit three character references and sit for an in-person interview. No one could carry more than two guns at once, and applicants would have to complete at least 16 hours of training, including on how to safely store and transport guns.

California already bans the sale of guns to anyone under 21, with some exceptions for hunting. Last year, a federal appeals court struck down a California law that banned the sale of semiautomatic weapons to anyone younger than 21. That ruling suggests the age limit for a concealed carry permit could be challenged — but Portantino said he believes it would be legal.

California — a state controlled by Democrats — has some of the toughest gun restrictions in the country. But that doesn’t mean passing new restrictions is easy. Last year, lawmakers failed to pass a similar proposal on the final day of the legislative session. But that was more because of a strategic blunder by supporters to require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature so the bill could take effect immediately.

Democrats could not round up enough support, and the bill died.

“That’s not going to happen this year,” Newsom said Wednesday. “I will be signing this legislation.”

Newsom and legislative Democrats repeatedly said they have renewed urgency to pass the bill this year after mass shootings in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay left 18 people dead and 10 others wounded. In total, the state had six mass shootings in January and at least 29 people were killed.

California Senate Republican Leader Brian Jones said the state has more than 100 gun laws, “and yet felons freshly back on the street continue to possess guns, known prohibited persons still have them, illegal firearms proliferate, and our databases remain inadequate.”

“Instead of pretending more laws are needed to end these tragic shootings, I encourage the Executive branch to embrace their Constitutional duties and enforce those laws we already have,” Jones said.

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California seeks new gun restrictions following shootings