CA Rings in 2016 With Tighter Gun Control

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On Jan. 1, three news laws and provisions to existing laws regarding firearms went into effect in California: SB 199, SB 707 and AB 1014. The laws concern BB devices, firearms on school campuses and temporary emergency gun violence restraining orders, and were passed as part of a statewide effort to reduce the number of gun-related deaths in California.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines a mass shooting as an incident where three or more people are killed by gunfire. According to the Shooting Tracker, there were 44 reported incidents in the US that matched the FBI’s definition of a mass shooting in 2015 alone, resulting in 209 reported deaths across the country. Incidents with higher numbers of casualties took place at a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina, a community college in Roseburg, Oregon and a government office holiday party in San Bernardino, California.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s legislation, combined with Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed gun control measures and President Obama’s executive actions against guns announced Tuesday, have some Santa Cruz residents in support of the new regulations, while others are skeptical of their efficacy.

THE LAWS 

SB 199

SB 199 requires that airsoft BB devices sold and manufactured in California be either brightly colored or transparent. Federal law states that airsoft BB devices must have a fluorescent tip to indicate that it’s not an actual firearm, but California’s new law requires these devices to be even more brightly colored. 

“I think they’ve gone far enough on marking firearms as toys,” said Robert “Rocky” De Forge, owner of Santa Cruz Armory, a gun shop in Scotts Valley. “There has to be some semblance of personal responsibility. If a child has these firearms, the parents have to be responsible. I don’t think we need to be regulated on every little detail of our life, this included.”

Patrons at Santa Cruz Armory fill out gun licensing papers and shop for firearms on Jan. 5, the day Obama announced executive actions on guns. Store owner Robert De Forge bills Santa Cruz Armory as “a gun shop without the gun shop attitude,” and wants to create an environment that is welcoming to people of all experience levels. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

The US has seen incidents where people were killed because police wrongly thought someone carrying a BB device was brandishing an actual firearm. Further marking the BB device would conceivably prevent these incidents from occurring,  De Forge said. But what this law fails to recognize, he added, is that owners of actual firearms can mark their weapons to look like BB devices, and can fool people into thinking they are not carrying an actual firearm.

The law may not be all-sweeping, said Dante Harootunian, president of the College Democrats at UCSC, but he thinks it will “have the effect of, when there’s a confrontation between law enforcement and someone that has a BB gun, it will be more clear that it’s not a real gun, and it’s less likely to end in someone getting shot.”

SB 707

Formerly under SB 707, all firearms were prohibited from school campuses, except if a person held a concealed carry weapon (CCW) license, or if they were a current or retired police officer. As of Jan. 1, however, even those holding CCWs are prohibited from carrying firearms on a school campus.

People are prohibited from carrying firearms into federal buildings, and De Forge said he understands why. But when it comes to the new provision of SB 707, he said, “This particular law is, out of the three [new laws], the one that really got me. What in the world are they thinking?”

“There are already super stringent, super strict requirements for CCWs, especially in Santa Cruz County,” De Forge said. “Shootings tend to happen in places that are ‘gun-free zones.’ Don’t you think you want the good guys that are trained, that have the CCWs, to be there and be the ones to carry firearms?”

UCSC Police Chief Nader Oweis said he supports SB 707 fully. And as far as the training regular CCW holders receive, he said that training can vary depending on the agency the license holder received their training from.

“Some people may get ‘training,’ but we don’t know what that training looks like,” Oweis said. “Just because they’ve been trained in a 16-hour class doesn’t mean they’re proficient. I don’t know how they’re carrying [the firearm]. I don’t know what kind of holster they’re using. I don’t know that they’re a good guy. I think that’s the biggest issue — that I don’t know they’re a good guy.”

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AB 1014

The third piece of newly enacted legislation is AB1014, which gives family members the ability to file temporary emergency gun violence restraining orders. If someone has reason to believe a family member has access to firearms and may harm themselves or others with them, with due process, police may search the subject’s home, car or other locations indicated in the restraining order, and may seize any firearms they find.

The police will then place the firearms in safekeeping for up to 21 days, during which time the subject may undergo a mental health screening. If the subject is found to be mentally unstable, the court will take further measures to mediate the situation. But if the subject is cleared of all concerns, then they may reobtain their firearms.

De Forge said that given the subjective nature of police and the court system, he worries that this law may be executed unfairly.

“This is just so ripe for abuse,” De Forge said, “because every police officer is going to go, ‘I don’t want to take a chance. I’m going to take your firearms anyway and let the judge sort it out.’ That’s going to create a huge, a huge possibility for people getting their firearms taken away.”

However, Oweis assured that the process is not as simple as a family member filing an order and an officer seizing the firearms immediately.

On Jan. 1, 2016, three new gun laws went into effect that concern, BB guns, firearms on school campuses and temporary emergency gun violence restraining orders. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

“There’s still a lot of due process that has to follow,” he said. 

The order has to go through the court system, but Oweis said he hopes the time between the family member’s filing the order and the search itself is not more than a few days, since the order is meant to be filed in cases of emergencies. 

AB 1014 brings to mind the incident in Isla Vista in 2014, when Elliot Rodger, a 22-year-old, killed six and injured 14 near the UC Santa Barbara campus. Rodger posted several threatening videos online, so his mother contacted mental health officials, who then dispatched sheriff’s deputies to check on him. After meeting Rodger, the officers concluded that he did not pose a danger and left. Had they searched his home, however, they would have found three semiautomatic handguns, dozens of rounds of ammunition and a copy of his manifesto. 

There is no way to know if AB 1014 would have prevented the Isla Vista incident if the law had been in effect in 2014. But, Chief Oweis said, the law could be used to prevent gun-related incidents from happening in the future.

“Maybe there is some other behavior starting to manifest that others are seeing,” Oweis said, “and now it’s an opportunity for us to at least talk to somebody about what’s going on and see if we can provide them with the right resources. It could be that nothing bad is happening at all. Then we can move on, but at least it got us an opportunity to have a conversation.”

NOT ENOUGH, OR TOO MUCH? 

Emmanuel Garcia, a fifth-year student majoring in legal studies and politics, is the Campus Affairs Director for the College Democrats at UCSC. He is also the proud owner of a Mosin Nagant M91/30, a bolt-action rifle.

Garcia bought his gun about a week after he turned 18. When asked if anybody in his family owned guns, he said no — nobody in his family even likes firearms.

“I think it sometimes shocks people when they hear I own a gun,” Garcia said. “They think, ‘You’re in the College Democrats, so you must be extremely liberal.’ And I am on many policies, but I am also a gun owner. So it throws people off.”

Handguns on display at Santa Cruz Armory in Scotts Valley. Photo by Jasper Lyons.

Garcia said he partially bought the gun to defend himself from the “sketchy stuff” that happens in his home neighborhood in San Diego, and partially because he’s interested in the history of it. His rifle is from 1891 and is of the same model George Orwell used in the Spanish Civil War.

Garcia said he fully supports increased gun regulation, but he feels that some laws do not increase people’s safety at all.

“There are some really trivial things in the state of California,” Garcia said, “like a forward grip, for example. If a rifle has a forward grip, like a pistol grip in the front, that’s against the law. But that doesn’t make a gun any more or less deadly.”

As far as increased gun control, Garcia said he would most like to see the gun show loophole closed, so that even those purchasing guns at gun shows undergo background checks. He said he was glad to see that outlined in President Obama’s executive actions. 

Dante Harootunian, president of the College Democrats at UCSC, said he would like to see incremental changes enacted so that there are fewer gun deaths, and so that responsible gun owners are not chastised.

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“Requiring that when you don’t actually have it on your person, it needs to be locked or have a trigger lock,” Harootunian said, “Gun storage is a place where I hope future regulations would be focused. Because that’s an easy thing.”

When he thinks of gun-related incidents that have occurred around the country, Harootunian said there is no reason why an incident could not happen on UCSC’s campus. He said the school’s progressive politics do not make it immune to violence, which is why gun regulation is important not just for cities with high rates of gun ownership, but the entire state of California.

“Just because we can’t stop all gun violence doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to stop what we can,” Harootunian said. And in regard to responsible gun owners and increased regulation, he added, “No one, even if they’re doing all the right things, likes to be told they have to do all the right things. But it’s necessary for people’s own safety.”