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California Voters Enhance State's Already Tough Gun Laws

Guns sit on a table after being turned in to San Diego police at a gun buyback event on December 21, 2012 at the United African American Ministerial Action Council in San Diego.
Katie Schoolov
Guns sit on a table after being turned in to San Diego police at a gun buyback event on December 21, 2012 at the United African American Ministerial Action Council in San Diego.

California voters on Tuesday expanded some of the nation's toughest gun control measures by banning possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, requiring background checks for ammunition sales and speeding the seizure of firearms from owners who are no longer allowed to own them.

Proposition 63 passed by a margin of 63 percent to 37 percent.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the chief proponent of the proposition, had predicted voters would be motivated by memories of the terrorist slayings in San Bernardino and other mass shootings around the nation.


"We defeated the NRA and made historic and unprecedented progress to reduce gun violence," Newsom said in a statement after the vote, referring to the National Rifle Association.

Newsom said during the campaign that the ammunition restrictions and California's unique firearm seizure program should serve as models for other states.

Opponents, including law enforcement officials, said the restrictions will likely just confuse law-abiding gun owners.

"We understand people's desire to do something about making society safer from gun violence," said Sean Brady, a spokesman for the Coalition for Civil Liberties that opposed the measure. However, "we don't believe that taking away individuals' constitutional rights is an appropriate way of addressing a societal ill that we all want so see remedied."

The initiative builds on limits signed into law earlier this year that address the same ammunition issues.


The state already has a program to remove guns from people convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor who are found to be mentally unstable or the subject of a restraining order involving domestic violence.

Proposition 63 includes a new process requiring offenders to give up their weapons as soon as they are convicted. That would help end a lengthy backlog in enforcing the law that has left thousands of guns in dangerous hands, Newsom said.

Under the proposal, California will be required to participate in the federal firearm owners' background check system, something the state already does voluntarily.

In addition, the ballot measure will require background checks for ammunition dealers.

Gov. Jerry Brown was not the only Democrat to question portions of the initiative pushed by Newsom as part of his Democratic campaign for governor in 2018.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, proposed competing legislation on high-capacity magazines and ammunition sales, with language attempting to override part of Proposition 63.

But there are differences:

California has long banned new purchases of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets, but previously allowed owners to keep the ones they have. Both the initiative and the new law require owners to surrender those magazines. The new law makes continued possession an infraction similar to a traffic ticket, while the initiative would let prosecutors charge the violation as either an infraction or a misdemeanor.

Both the new law and the initiative require background checks for buying ammunition, but the initiative uses a different process with fewer exceptions. The ballot measure also would require background checks for ammunition dealers and require dealers to report lost or stolen bullets.

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