With over a dozen gun-control bills sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk, it would be easy to overlook Assembly Bill 180 as simply another measure to limit firearm violence in California. However, if signed into law, AB 180 would take the historic step of making Oakland the first city in the state to regulate the registration or licensing of firearms on a local level.
As it stands, California state law bars local governments from regulating firearms. AB 180, sponsored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), proposes an exemption from this law for the city of Oakland. With this restriction lifted, city officials would be free to impose stricter gun regulation than the state of California already does. The bill passed both legislative houses and Gov. Brown has until October 13th to decide whether to sign it into law.
California currently does not require official gun registration. Instead gun owners are required to provide a proof of purchase from firearm sellers to the state Department of Justice.
Assemblyman Bonta described the main goals of the legislation. “This bill will help get guns out of the hands of people on the APP (Armed and Prohibited Persons) list, create a true gun registration system to prevent gun trafficking, and give more tools to local law enforcement.” He admitted that while there was still a need for “federal solutions,” the bill would immediately work to save lives in Oakland. Mayor Jean Quan, the City Council and Police Chief Sean Whent have all voiced their support for the bill.
Last year there were over 4,000 gun-related crimes in Oakland, which also recorded the highest per-capita robbery rate in the United States. The city is on track to exceed those numbers this year.
Sam Hoover, an Oakland resident and staff attorney with the Center to Prevent Gun Violence, supported the bill as a step in the right direction. “Oakland is bleeding, figuratively and literally, with the gun violence so we don’t think it hurts to have another law enforcement tool to help the city.” He added, “Ideally, we’d like this to happen across the state.”
Councilmember Libby Schaaf, who helped originally introduce the bill, argued that the city needed the freedom to choose stronger gun regulation, rather than be limited by “a blanket law that is supposed to cover every single community in California.”
Schaaf noted that city council members are notified every time someone is shot in Oakland, which often means multiple notifications daily. “It’s a constant reminder of the pain that so many families in Oakland are feeling and the fear that our residents have to live with,” Schaaf said.
Still, not everyone believes that the law is a good idea. Oakland gun owner and NRA member Bill Hodges has followed the bill from its inception and is concerned about the precedent it could set. “It’s more restrictions on legal gun owners. Why punish me?” Hodges asked.
“There’s no rational reason for the city of Oakland or any other city to double registration for firearms and gun owners,” added Brandon Combs, President of the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees. “This would create a confusing spider web of gun control laws from community to community.”
There is also the question of whether the law will be effective in reducing crime. The city of Chicago has had its own local gun registry since 1968, along with a current ban on assault weapons and gun dealers. But in recent years, the city has had some of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. Last week, in compliance with a new state law allowing people to carry concealed weapons in public, the Chicago City Council effectively ended the registry.
San Francisco is the only other city in California to have tried something similar in 2005, when voters approved a ban on handguns, but the ordinance was later struck down in Superior Court. The judge claimed local governments have no authority to regulate firearms under state law. Both Bonta and Schaaf are confident the Oakland bill would avoid this fate, because this law would actually repeal state preemption for Oakland.
At this point, Governor Brown has not indicated if he is leaning one way or the other. Proponents of AB 180 are confident that Brown, as a former mayor of Oakland and current Oakland resident, understands the public safety concerns of the city. “Oakland wants it. Oakland needs it,” said Bonta. “We’re hopeful that Governor Brown will sign the bill.”