SACRAMENTO -- Emboldened by the recall of two Colorado lawmakers last month, California gun-rights activists within a few weeks will be collecting petition signatures to kick several state lawmakers out of office, the activists announced Thursday.
Free California, a nonprofit founded by a Republican strategist who was involved in the Colorado recalls and who is now the spokeswoman for Assemblyman Tim Donnelly's campaign for governor, held a news conference with Donnelly and others Thursday on the steps of the state Capitol. Named as potential targets were state Sens. Norma Torres, D-Chino, and Ben Hueso, D-Chula Vista; Assemblywomen Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, and Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton; and Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles.
Free California founder Jennifer Kerns later Thursday said the list may change but should be finalized in about two weeks. Then "we'll get to work immediately on collecting signatures" from holiday-season shoppers, she said.
"Based upon the reaction of the people in California, we can't not do it," she said. "We have to listen to the people."
Kerns said her group is picking targets who actively supported 12 gun-control bills, including SB374, which would have added all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines to the state's list of banned assault weapons, and AB711, which will ban lead ammunition in hunting by 2019. Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the former but signed the latter into law.
Political opportunity is part of the calculation too, Kerns said: Her group will target lawmakers in swing districts, especially those who were put into office in special elections. It takes signatures equal to 12 percent of the votes cast in an officeholder's last election to put a recall on the ballot, so those sent to Sacramento by special elections require fewer signatures. Torres, Hueso and Gonzalez won their seats in special elections.
Kerns said the campaign's funding "as we start out is going to come from regular everyday people."
The National Rifle Association spent heavily on the Colorado recalls, although it was outspent by recall opponents funded by national gun-control advocates such as New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his group's 30,000 supporters "are up in arms and want action, and the recalls' success in Colorado has got our folks very motivated to participate.
"We are taking their encouragement and running with it full-speed ahead," he said. "Shame on us if we don't do something."
Some of the lawmakers responded with "bring it on" bravado Thursday.
"The speaker and Assembly Democrats are proud of their common-sense record on gun safety, which is supported by the overwhelming number of Californians," said Perez spokesman Steve Maviglio.
Field Poll results released in February found California voters by a 61 percent to 34 percent margin believed it more important to impose greater controls on gun ownership than to protect gun-ownership rights -- a wider margin than observed in three previous Field Polls on gun issues since 1999.
Gonzalez and Quirk-Silva both issued statements saying that as mothers, they're proud of their support for gun-safety laws that will keep their communities safer. Hueso said he stands by his voting record, "which is consistent with the views of the majority of my constituents who support common-sense changes to gun laws that do not erode Second Amendment rights." And Torres said she has "never supported any effort to strip responsible gun owners of our Second Amendment rights."
"What I have supported are policies aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of murderers, criminals and in places where they pose an obvious threat to public safety," Torres said. "The voters in my community are smart and will recognize that this is nothing more than a political stunt."
State Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Long Beach, who chairs the California Latino Legislative Caucus, said any group abusing the recall process for political gain "should be ashamed of itself," especially "when the strategy targets only Latinos. Californians will not stand for any campaign that is clearly racist and devoid of any political or legal legitimacy."
Brown on Oct. 11 vetoed seven gun bills but signed 11 others. Some new laws will require long-gun buyers to earn safety certificates like those 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.
Still, Brown ultimately rejected seven of 11 bills that the NRA had urged him to veto, capping a year of tumultuous gun-control debate sparked by December's massacre of 20 elementary school children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., and sustained by other mass shootings that followed.
New York passed a tough raft of new gun laws in January, yet 52 of that state's 62 counties passed official resolutions opposing the laws. 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. Congress ultimately enacted no new gun laws at all.
Tim Knight, one of the leaders of the Colorado recalls, was at Thursday's event in Sacramento; Kerns said he'll advise the California effort.
California Democratic Party spokesman Tenoch Flores said this recall effort "may well represent the last dying gasps of the tea party in California."
"Voters here know and understand that we need to keep military-style assault weapons off our streets," he said. "California Democrats are accomplishing what Washington has failed to do -- and that is enact sensible gun laws."