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Will California Gun Laws Go National?

GUN LAWS - On Thursday morning, Democratic lawmakers gathered at the western steps of the state Capitol to commemorate victims of gun violence and orate on the need for tougher gun laws — both in California and nationally. 

Whatever fissures erupted into public view earlier this week in an Assembly leadership fight, almost all California Democrats seem to be on the same page on guns. Gov. Gavin Newsom tweeted about it and blasted out a stats-packed press release promoting California as a national model. The state Senate passed a resolution naming today, the first Friday of the month, “Gun Violence Awareness Day.” 

Both the resolution and the concept are the brainchild of Everytown for Gun Safety, the national nonprofit funded by former New York Mayor and billionaire Michael Bloomberg that advocates for tighter gun laws.

As legislators spoke, two consistent themes emerged: California’s toughest-in-the-nation gun rules are supported by most Californians (generally true) and more national restrictions are needed.

  • Sen. Nancy Skinner of Berkeley: “We are subject to the tyranny of a minority of Americans and the tyranny of an industry driven by profit and no regard for human life — none.”
  • Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel of Van Nuys: “We are safer here in the state of California because of the work that we have done…but we need action from Washington, D.C.”

Message received? We’ll see. In response to the Uvalde school massacre (which has already been partially pushed from the headlines by yet another mass shooting, this one in Tulsa) a bipartisan caucus of U.S. senators is searching for “common ground” on gun policy. 

An early candidate for a policy that could clear the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate: Incentives for states to adopt “red flag” laws, which could allow family members, law enforcement or potentially other concerned outsiders to petition a court to have someone’s firearms confiscated if they seem to pose a threat to themselves or others.

California is among the first states with a red flag law. It’s been on the books since 2016. Does it reduce gun violence? It’s impossible to know for sure, but the state’s most prominent gun violence researcher seems to think so.

On Thursday night, President Joe Biden gave a speech urging Congress to adopt a swath of new gun restrictions.

  • Biden“Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. And if we can’t ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21, strengthen background checks, enact safe storage laws and red flag laws, repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers from liability…these are rational commonsense measures.”

What they are — most of them anyway — are California measures. And while the legal liability proposal deals with federal law, California lawmakers are considering legislation this year to chip away at that legal shield.

In a press release sent out after Biden’s speech, the governor was happy to make that point.

  • Newsom: “Now it’s time for Congress to put the lives of our people first and pass California-tested, California-proven gun safety laws.”

(Ben Christopher covers California politics and elections, and state's economy and budget. Based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, he has written for San Francisco magazine, California magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Priceonomics and has a Master’s in Public Policy from the University of California, Berkeley. This story was featured in CalMatters.)