Assemblymember Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), announces new legislation on January 7 that would regulate the sale and purchase of ammunition throughout California. Photo courtesy Julie Waters, Office of Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner.

Richmond, Oakland leaders supporting proposed state regulation of ammunition sales

on January 15, 2013

In the wake of recent mass shootings—including one in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, which took 26 lives, and one in late July at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, which left 12 dead—an East Bay politician is pushing for new state restrictions on the sale of ammunition in California. The move has received widespread support from city and school officials in cities like Oakland and Richmond, which struggle with high rates of violent crime.

Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, (D-Berkeley), who introduced AB 48 at a press conference on January 7, said there is an urgent need to require identification from purchasers of ammunition, as well as to create a state database that will track who buys and sells bullets so that law enforcement can access that information. According to the California Department of Justice, there are currently no state-level regulations on these matters, although some cities and counties have enacted local laws. In proposing her legislation, Skinner cited the need to stitch together that piecemeal network of regulations.

“It’s bullets that make a gun deadly, so if we have restrictions on the purchase of guns, then shouldn’t we also have them on guns?” Skinner said in a phone interview late Monday. “There are cities, like Sacramento, that do keep track of ammunition sales—but when only a few communities have these laws on the books, then someone can proverbially walk across the street and buy the bullets there.”

Skinner, who officially proposed AB 48 on December 20, just a week after the Newtown shooting, criticized lax state regulations regarding the sale of ammunition. “Tragic but true, it’s easier to buy ammo than to buy cold medicine, alcohol, or tobacco,” she said in a press statement. “It’s time for buying deadly bullets to fall under the same controls as guns and Sudafed.”

Under AB 48, which Skinner wrote with Assemblymember Rob Bonta, (D-Oakland), ammunition sellers would have to be licensed, purchases would be reported to the Department of Justice, and people who buy bullets would be required to show identification. The state would create an online registry of all ammunition sold in California, which would be accessible to law enforcement agencies. The bill would also require the Department of Justice to notify police if a large amount of ammunition is bought by a single person in a short amount of time. Finally, the bill would ban weapon kits that convert guns into assault rifles by increasing the capacity of the magazine load.

“There are already really strong gun control laws in California, but there aren’t many controls against purchasing ammunition,” Bonta said in a phone interview late Monday. “We know that in recent national tragedies, the stockpiling of ammo was part of these horrible massacres.”

A running tally by the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Violence, a nonprofit research and advocacy group that lobbies for more comprehensive gun laws, show that in California, there are three counties and 12 cities that have implemented their own regulations regarding the sale of ammunition. These include Oakland, Los Angeles and Sacramento, each of which require an online registry of ammunition purchasers be kept by retailers who sell bullets. Online registries regularly require purchasers to provide information like their name, age, date of birth and address, as well as the type of ammunition bought, when it was purchased and their signature.

“Because there is no oversight on ammunition sales at the state level, laws like AB 48 become more important, because ammunition ought to be treated as seriously as firearms,” said Benjamin Van Houton, a managing attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Violence. “Look at Sacramento, where they started keeping track in an online database—law enforcement looked at those records, and identified a number of people with criminal convictions who had subsequently purchased ammunition.”

Skinner said she considered Sacramento’s laws when writing AB 48. There, purchasers of ammunition are required to show a government-issued ID card and give their thumbprint. Then the amount and type of ammunition purchased is recorded in an online database. Sellers are required to send the Sacramento Police Department a list of purchasers’ names every five days, according to Greg Halstead, a detective with the Sacramento Police Department who is assigned to a taskforce that inspects the ammunition registries.

“We run every name through our various criminal databases to see if there are any people who are prohibited from purchasing ammunition—for example, if they’ve been convicted of a felony,” Halstead said, noting that Sacramento’s regulation gives police the right to seize ammunition that was bought by someone who cannot legally purchase it.  “Since the program started in January of 2008, we’ve seized 226 firearms, over 10,000 rounds and eight homemade explosive devices.”

Halstead said combing through each name, investigating the purchasers who illegally bought ammunition and getting search warrants for those who have felony backgrounds is time consuming and resource-intensive, but the program has been effective. “Our local district attorney has charged 334 people, and an additional 18 have been indicted in federal court based on their criminal history,” Halstead said.

Oakland does not permit the sale of guns or ammunition, according to Sgt. Christopher Bolton, a spokesperson from the Oakland Police Department. But, he added, the city still retains an overlapping law that requires an online registry of the sale of ammunition be kept citywide. Richmond is covered by Contra Costa County’s code, which states that every sale of ammunition must be recorded, noting the type and amount of ammunition bought, and purchasers are required to show their ID, and give their signature.

Opponents of the bill have criticized AB 48, saying it will wrongfully criminalize every person who buys ammunition. Scott Jackson, who runs a weaponry training company in Burlingame, California, said he relies on ammunition sales to run his business, called the Bay Area Firearms Training Group. “Regulating bullets is not addressing the problem,” said Jackson, adding that there should instead be more scrutiny over products like violent video games. “This new law would make me feel like a criminal, without being one. It’s like we’d be registered like a felon or a sex offender.”

Calls seeking comment from the National Rifle Association were not returned.

Bonta said the legislation will likely face some criticism on the Assembly floor. “I’m relatively confident it will pass, but I would expect there to be some controversy,” he added. “We’re having a national and statewide conversation right now, and this is something that’s necessary.”

So far AB 48 has received strong support members of the Oakland City Council and school representatives from Richmond and Oakland, many of whom appeared with Skinner at her January press conference. Halting violent crime is a serious concern in both cities. A school shooting at Oikos University in Oakland left seven dead in early April last year. In 2012, there were 131 homicides, making it the city’s deadliest year since 2006. In the first two weeks of 2013, there have already been six deadly shootings—four of which occurred in the span of six hours on Friday, January 11, alone, police said Monday. In 2012, Richmond saw a total of 18 homicides, according to Lt. Bisa French of the Richmond Police Department.

Newly inaugurated Oakland Councilman Dan Kalb, who represents North Oakland, was at last week’s press conference to support AB 48, holding a sign that read “Stop gun violence.”

“Crime has gotten out of hand, and we need to institute a range of things to reduce the violence and make our neighborhoods safer,” Kalb said in a phone interview later that week. “Just Wednesday afternoon there was a murder on 55th Street, in my district.”

Kalb said programs like Operation Ceasefirea violence prevention program which targets a small number of violent offenders citywide and offers them a choice to either stop breaking the law or face focused attention from the police department—combined with putting more officers on the streets will go far in reducing violence in Oakland, as will gun buyback programs and anonymous tip lines residents can use to report illegal guns. “All these things have potential to save lives,” he said.

“I am proud to endorse AB 48, which will establish common-sense regulations on the sale of ammunition in California—requiring purchasers of bullets to show identification, requiring sellers to be licensed, and creating a state registry of sales similar to databases kept for the sale of some over-the-counter cold medicines,” said Rebecca Kaplan, who represents Oakland in the at-large seat on the city council. Kaplan’s platform during the November 2012 election included what she called “bullet control,” or regulating ammunition sales.  “Our nation is having an important conversation around sensible laws to regulate the sale of firearms,” she said.

Diane Brown, who represents the United Teachers of Richmond, the district’s union, called the legislation “urgent.”

“We know that safety has always been an issue on our schools, but never at the magnitude that it is now,” Brown said in a phone interview Thursday, taking long emotional pauses as she spoke. “This is very difficult. We keep thinking about what happened in Newtown—we need to do what we can so our children don’t become targets.”

Richmond schools, part of the West Contra Costa Unified School District, are evaluating their safety plans in the wake of recent school shootings, Brown said. Brown said that in 2010 the district won a readiness and emergency-preparedness grant from the U.S. Department of Education, and they have regular police patrol officers in their schools who work to establish relationships with teachers and students. Faculty at the schools continue to have conversations about what to do in a violent attack, she said.

Marin Trujillo, a spokesperson for West Contra Costa Unified, confirmed Thursday that the district has at least one police officer dedicated to each of the district’s six high schools. He said there have been no incidents of violent school shootings at last in the last six years.

“This is a wake-up call,” said Brown referring to the school shooting in Newtown. “That’s why we support AB 48—because we believe that we need to work with our political leaders to stop this type of violence.”

Brown also said that many Richmond schools faculty are upset by the idea suggested by gun rights lobbyists that weapons should be brought in to schools by teachers and other school supervisors. “Guns are not the answer,” she said. “We need to invest in education and in our children, not train teachers to use guns.”

Trish Gorham, president of the Oakland Education Association, echoed Brown’s statements. “Slaughter on the scale of Newtown is thankfully rare,” Gorham said. “But AB 48 is a reasonable and practical response that can reduce the threat of massacre by controlling, at least as rigorously as decongestants, the purchase of bullets and magazines.”

Gorham said she recently spoke to an 8th grade teacher who was planning to attend the funeral of a former student who had been shot, the teacher’s second such funeral in the last five years. “Oakland’s children are even more vulnerable to random acts of gun violence from day to day; week to week,” Gorham said. “And that is why, as teachers, we support Assemblymember Skinner’s legislation—we want at least the beginning of a commitment to make our communities safer for our students.”

Troy Flint, spokesperson for the Oakland Unified School District, said there has never been a shooting on an Oakland public school campus, adding that there are 13 officers dedicated to patrolling 86 district-wide schools.  (Oikos University, a privately-run college, is not a part of the Oakland public school system.) “Weapons on campus is not our number one issue,” Flint said. “But policing it is something we’re vigilant about.”

A representative from Skinner’s office said AB 48 next would be heard in the legislature’s public safety committee in late February or early March, then move to appropriations committee before being heard on the assembly floor. A vote is expected this spring, she said.

 

4 Comments

  1. Tony Suggs on January 15, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    So much wrong with this thinking it is hard to know where to begin.

    In a tv inview that Assemblywoman Skinner held stated that the shooter in Newtown Conn, used an assault rifle. That is not true. He used only handguns, four to be exact.

    Connecticut has a so called assault weapons ban. He stole the guns he used in the shooting.

    No rifle was used to kill anyone at the school.

    Everyone is calling for “sensible” or “common sense” gun or ammunition control. Don’t they already know that there are 10s of thousands of gun control laws already on the books in every state.

    You call it gun violence as if the gun creates it. It is HUMAN VIOLENCE! Someone will find what it takes to kill or main another, if they are determined to do so..

    Richmond, San Francsico and Oakland have proven that if you want to reduce the human violence in the schools, you have proper security.

    Finally, regarding the gun buy backs. Has anyone ever completed a study to see if any of the guns “bought back” were used in a shooting?

    The reality is, a street criminal can get more money on the street for that gun than by selling it to the police.

    From what I have seem in the televised reports, it is mostly older people turning in guns that they never used, no longer use or want.

    If you want to have not one more gun death, you would have to confiscate every gun in the United States and build a wall around the country.

    But of course that is not what anyone wants to do, right.



  2. Felix Hunziker on January 15, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    Regulating ammunition to reduce gun violence is like regulating matches to reduce arson – they’re everywhere, nearly everyone handles them safely, and a criminal only needs a few.

    I’m a recreational shooter and I enjoy inviting folks from my neighborhood to the range to teach them basic marksmanship skills and firearm safety. Unfortunately the ammunition selection at the few local firearm dealers (FFLs) is limited and very expensive, so it’s common for anyone who practices regularly to order cases of ammunition online which could be several thousand rounds at a time. Under Assemblymember Skinner’s bill our identification and the details of every ammunition purchase we make will be forwarded to the State and if we purchase over a certain amount we’ll be flagged for “inquiry” by the police. I support efforts to keep ammunition out of the hands of prohibited persons but this plan borders on the Orwellian.

    Ms. Skinner’s bill also directs all ammunition sales or transfers to be performed by an FFL, who will add more cost to already expensive ammunition to compensate for the new registration procedures and, in the case of online orders, added storage and insurance requirements. FFLs typically charge a $50 transfer fee per firearm sale and one can expect a similar fee on ammunition, particularly if it’s a shipment from an outside vendor that’s undercutting the FFL’s own sales. It’s unlikely that any local FFL even has the facilities to accommodate this new function of a postal depot for ammunition, and it remains to be seen if out-of-state vendors are willing to track California FFLs to ensure their shipments are complying with local law.

    The net result will be sharp increase in ammunition cost which is particularly burdensome for any low income residents wishing to buy just a couple boxes for practice or home defense. Can you imagine a $50 fee on a $16 box of ammunition? Socioeconomic classism aside, this bill will do nothing to prevent the current practice of non-felon associates of gang members purchasing ammunition over the counter (I’ve seen it myself), nor will it prevent high functioning psychopaths like the Aurora shooter from assembling an arsenal over a period of weeks or months, nor will it prevent a mentally unstable person like the Newtown shooter from stealing someone else’s firearms. While law abiding gunowners who practice (and we do want them to practice) must buy ammunition in large quantities due to problems with cost and availability, criminals need just a few boxes to accomplish their deadly work.

    If you’re a California gunowner your ability to practice your constitutional right is about to be heavily burdened under the sympathetic but false pretense of gun violence reduction. And, as often happens, if you give a friend a box of ammunition at the range or in the privacy of your home you will have committed a criminal act. We are punishing the law abiding while doing very little to stop the law breakers.

    Gun violence stems from disparate and desperate social conditions, not from the availability of firearms or ammunition. Our City of Richmond has made great strides in violence reduction and frankly I think we could teach everyone else a thing or two. Our commitment to a fully staffed police department, prosecution of gun crimes, improved parolee oversight, genuine community policing, active neighborhood watches, gang intervention programs like ONS and Ceasefire, CBO’s that focus on nightwalks, reentry assistance and job training, plus county-level efforts at alternative sentencing – THESE are the reasons gun violence has dropped in our City. And these are the goals that our legislators should be pursuing for the State of California, not more laws that criminals will ignore.

    Felix Hunziker

    .

    AB48: http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB48



    • kai freshman on February 9, 2013 at 10:06 am

      I agree whole heartedly with you Felix, could you inform me about some community groups in Richmond. I live in El Cerrito and want to more active in my community. Thank you



  3. kai freshman on February 9, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I agree that more regulation is not the solution to gun violence, but thats all you get from politicians who have taken large amounts of $ from corporations. The people have to band together like Felix stated. If the people lead, the leaders have to follow! The people will not band together until they understand that corporations like Chevron are not trying to do right for Richmond. Corp.s do only enough to keep us from realizing their only concerned with profits. Wake up people and see who’s really pulling the strings!



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