SANTA CRUZ -- The tragedy visited upon Santa Cruz on Tuesday when two officers were gunned down came as the community already was responding to gun violence here and across the nation.
In a bitter irony, the shooting took place just prior to a pre-planned Town Clock rally against gun violence. That rally was visited by Supervisor John Leopold, author of new regulations on local gun shops that were approved earlier in the day by the county Board of Supervisors.
"There's an epidemic of gun violence in this country," Leopold said. "And we as a community and a country have to come to terms with our relationship with guns, and we have to work to ensure safety for everyone."
Opposed by the National Rifle Association, the regulations require background checks for gun shop owners and employees and set safety standards, such as the handling of weapons during and after business hours.
There are numerous licensed dealers in the county, and no recent violence has been linked to any of them. The new rules license and set where guns shops can go, allowing them in commercial districts only and requiring them to be at least 600 feet from schools, parks and licensed day care providers, and at least 300 feet from residential areas.
Before finalizing the rules, the board may also require a buffer around medical marijuana dispensaries.
"I think it's unwise to put a gun shop and a dispensary in the same place," Leopold said.
initial proposal to regulate gun shops came in response to a once-proposed store on Portola Drive. It inspired an outcry from gun rights advocates concerned about the county's intentions, but by the time the rules were passed Wednesday, just three people spoke in opposition.
Santa Cruz resident Bruce Tanner, who is concerned the government is using incidents like the Newtown, Conn. massacre to disarm the populace, said the county did not need location restrictions on shops.
"It doesn't really seem rational to me that someone is going to go buy a firearm next to a day care center and commit a mass murder," Tanner said. "So what is the point of doing that, is it just feeding the anti-gun fever?"
The vote was unanimous, but came with some reservations from Supervisor Greg Caput. Caput said he was worried that overregulation could create a black market for weapons in Santa Cruz County and even spur gun sales.
"I did call some gun shops and just the talk of what we're doing, they've been selling out. It's not necessarily us, it's the federal government (as well)," Caput said.
The NRA objected to the regulations, though a three-page letter on legal letterhead failed to list specific objections. County legal staff said they are confident the new rules pass muster with state and federal laws.
Tuesday's violence also came after the county board voted to support efforts by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, to reinstate a federal assault weapons ban. The resolution was sought by board Chair Neal Coonerty, who represents Santa Cruz, a city that has seen a spasm of violence in February.
"Our country has lost too many lives to gun violence," Coonerty said prior to the shootings. "We owe it to our children and our neighbors to reduce gun violence and to keep our communities safe."
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