SACRAMENTO -- Capping a tumultuous year of national debate over gun control, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday vetoed seven gun bills, including an effort to outlaw all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines. But he signed 11 others, including a groundbreaking ban on lead ammunition in hunting.
Sparked by December's massacre of 20 elementary school children and six educators in Newtown, Conn. -- and sustained by other mass shootings that followed -- a wave of new gun legislation erupted across the nation this year with varying results. Many gun-control advocates had hoped the Golden State would succeed where most others failed, as gun rights advocates fought to limit the California damage.
Activists on both sides of the issue expressed a mixture of elation over their victories and anger over their defeats Friday -- yet another sign that the governor's "paddle to the left, then paddle to the right" philosophy has sent California's canoe sailing up the middle of the policy stream once again.
Most significant among the vetoed bills was SB374 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, which would have added all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines to the state's list of banned assault weapons. In his veto message, Brown said California already has some of the nation's strictest gun laws and that other bills he signed will make them even stronger.
"I don't believe that this bill's blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners' rights," the governor wrote.
In a statement Friday, however, Steinberg said "aggressive action is precisely what's needed to reduce the carnage in our communities, and to counter the equally aggressive action by the gun industry."
The governor also nixed efforts to let Oakland draft stricter gun regulations on its own and to give San Francisco and San Mateo County supervisors the authority to ban gun shows at the Cow Palace.
Some of the other bills Brown signed will require long-gun buyers to earn safety certificates like those already required of handgun buyers; ban conversion kits that allow people to turn regular magazines into high-capacity magazines; and extend from six months to five years the prohibition from owning firearms for those who have described a credible violent threat to a psychotherapist.
The Newtown tragedy prompted New York state to pass a tough raft of new gun control laws in January, yet 52 of 62 counties passed official resolutions opposing the laws, and some have even directed their law enforcement officials not to enforce them. Colorado enacted new laws requiring background checks for private gun sales and limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, among other things, but angry voters recalled two state senators who helped pass those bills. And Congress ultimately enacted no new gun laws at all.
Jennifer Kerns, a Republican strategist involved in the Colorado recalls, convened a new "Free California" grass-roots group at the state GOP convention last weekend in Anaheim. The group then announced it wouldn't "rule out 'Colorado-style recall elections' if Brown signed the most objectionable gun control legislation into law.
Gun rights activists are grateful that Brown vetoed Steinberg's SB374, but the governor still "signed the most sweeping set of gun control bills in the nation into law today," Kerns said Friday. "There will be a political price to pay for this."
She said her group will examine Friday's signings, pore over roll calls of lawmakers who voted for them "and determine if there are grounds for legislative recalls," especially "any legislators who voted wildly out of step with their districts. ... We may even go out and talk to some of their constituents, hold a town hall or three."
Still, Brown ultimately rejected seven of 11 bills that the National Rifle Association had urged him to veto.
The Courage Campaign, a liberal online organizing network that led other groups in holding a candlelight vigil Thursday outside the state Capitol, is "really upset and disappointed with the governor's vetoes," Executive Chairman Paul Song said Friday.
"It seems to me he was much more concerned about his re-election and pandering to the gun owners rather than the overall safety of California," Song said. "We hope it does not take another mass shooting for him to realize that he should've voted the other way. This is the one state where we didn't expect the NRA to have as much power as it obviously still does."
Easily the most controversial gun bill signed by Brown was AB711 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate, to ban use of lead ammunition in hunting by mid-2019.
He issued a signing message that said lead endangers wildlife, but noted that the new law lets the state Fish and Wildlife Department suspend the ban if the federal government prohibits nonlead ammunition because it's considered armor-piercing.
"It is time to begin this transition and provide hunters with ammunition that will allow them to continue the conservation heritage of California," Brown wrote.
Audubon California, the Humane Society of the United States and Defenders of Wildlife had made the bill one of their top priorities in an otherwise lackluster year for environmental bills in Sacramento.
Jennifer Fearing, California director of the Humane Society of the United States, called the new law "an incredible victory for wildlife and humans alike" that "should serve as an example for the rest of the nation on the urgent need to stop releasing this dangerous toxin into the environment."
But state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, called the bill "another step by some special-interest groups whose desire is to diminish, if not eliminate, hunting in California."
Dallas Stout, president of the California Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said was disappointed that Brown "picked the low-hanging fruit, the easy stuff, and the stuff that would've had the bigger impact in the long run is what he bowed out on."
But Brown signed more gun bills than he vetoed, Stout noted, "and he did give some guidance in several of his veto messages about how the bills should be re-crafted so that he can sign them next year."
"For us, this is a marathon, not a sprint."
Staff writer Paul Rogers contributed to this report. Josh Richman covers politics. Contact him at 510-208-6428. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman. Read the Political Blotter at IBAbuzz.com/politics.
Here's how Gov. Jerry Brown dealt with 18 gun bills Friday:
SB 127 by Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin -- Requires a licensed psychotherapist whose patient makes a serious threat of violence against a reasonably identifiable victim or victims to report that threat to local police within one day; police must then notify the state Justice Department within a day of receiving the report.
SB 363 by Sen. Roderick Wright, D-Los Angeles -- Expands the crime of "criminal storage" to include keeping a loaded firearm within premises where a prohibited person is likely to gain access and actually accesses and causes injury.
SB 683 by Sen. Marty Block, D-San Diego -- Require owners of long guns to earn safety certificates like those already required of handgun owners.
AB 48 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley -- Bans conversion kits that allow people to turn regular magazines into high-capacity magazines.
AB 170 by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena -- Provides that only an individual person, not an organization, may be issued a permit to possess an assault weapon, .50 BMG rifle or machine gun.
AB 231 by Assemblyman Phil Ting, D-San Francisco -- Makes it a crime to leave a loaded firearm somewhere a child is likely to be able to get it without permission.
AB 500 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco -- Would tighten gun safety laws on safe storage to include households where someone is prohibited from owning a gun; also allows additional time for Department of Justice background checks.
AB 538 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento -- Requires a licensed firearm dealer to provide copies of the dealer's record of sale to a firearm purchaser at the time of delivery.
AB 539 by Pan -- Lets someone who's temporarily prohibited from owning or possessing a firearm to transfer firearms in his or her possession or ownership to a licensed firearms dealer for storage.
AB 711 by Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-South Gate -- Bans use of lead ammunition in hunting by mid-2019.
AB 1131 by Skinner -- Extends from six months to five years the prohibition from owning firearms for those who have described a credible violent threat to a psychotherapist.
SB 299 by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord -- Would have required gun owners to report a gun theft or loss to police within seven days of knowing about it.
SB 374 by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento -- Would have added all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines to the state's list of banned assault weapons.
SB 475 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco -- Would have essentially banned gun shows at the Cow Palace by requiring they be approved by San Francisco and San Mateo supervisors.
SB 567 by Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara -- Would have updated the definition of an illegal shotgun to include a shotgun with a revolving cylinder and a rifled bore.
SB 755 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Vacaville -- Would have expanded list of convicts who can't legally own guns to include those with multiple drug or alcohol crimes, street gang members and others.
AB 169 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento -- Would have tightened exemptions to the law prohibiting purchase of handguns that haven't been tested and deemed safe by the state.
AB 180 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland -- Would have given Oakland an exemption from state pre-emption so it can pass its own stricter gun registration or licensing statutes.