Oakland City Council approves ammunition ordinance
on February 19, 2010
On Tuesday, Oakland city council members unanimously voted for an ordinance to enhance the city’s existing gun control regulations. Although currently neither California nor federal law mandates it, the city ordinance would require ammunition sellers to obtain firearms dealer licenses, and require dealers to perform inventory inspections twice a year. It would also require a person who is purchasing ammunition to submit thumbprints and report any theft of their guns to police within 48 hours.
Mayor Ron Dellums is a staunch supporter of this ordinance as part of his effort to fight violence. “This nation is building a gun nation. We have to take any action to prevent that in Oakland,” Dellums said in an interview with Oakland North at the peace conference he held early in this month. Dellums frequently touts the fact that Oakland’s overall crime rate dropped by 10 percent last year. According to the Oakland Police Department, aggressive assaults involving firearms also decreased by 25 percent within the last year.
Oakland does not currently have stores that may legally sell guns to the public. Yet firearms still play a critical role in Oakland violence. In 2008, 89 percent of homicides in Oakland were gun-related. Between 2008 and 2009, gun-related crime decreased by only one percent.
Even though there are no publicly-accessible gun shops in Oakland, guns are still brought in from outside city limits and are often illegally purchased by people prohibited from owning firearms. Although California gun laws stipulate that felons are ineligible to purchase guns, and that a background check is required to purchase a firearm, according the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, in 2007 a total of 200 firearms found in Oakland at crime scenes and seized during arrests were traced backed to felons in illegal possession of them. In 2008, the number jumped to 263. As of December 9th, 2009, the number for the past year had increased to 283.
When asked during the peace conference if the city’s ammunition ordinance could create a significant crime reduction, Oakland Police Chief Anthony Batts said that the Oakland Police Department is supportive of anything that takes guns off the street. “A lot of crime related guns seem to come from Reno,” said Batts. Unlike California, Nevada does not require private gun dealers to run background checks, purchased guns do not need to be registered, there is no waiting period to buy a gun, and there is no legal limit to the number and type of firearms that can be purchased.
Lindsay Nichols, a staff attorney for the San Francisco-based law center Legal Community Against Violence, said that the ordinance will discourage gun violence by giving police more information about where criminals are buying their ammunition and allowing the city to keep tighter tabs on ammunition suppliers. Nichols consulted for the city of Oakland and helped draft the ordinance. “What we are trying to do is to fill the loophole that enables people with illegally purchased guns to obtain ammunition,” says Nichols.
According to Nichols, a similar ordinance that took effect in 2007 in Sacramento brought significant results. Sacramento required ammunition dealers to have licenses and keep records of gun purchasers. In 2008, the Sacramento Police Department, using the records of ammunition sellers, tracked down 156 people who illegally purchased ammunition, of which 124 were convicted felons. This resulted over 100 felony charges filed, and 84 firearms being seized. Nichols said the success in Sacramento led the state to mandate that ammunition dealers keep sales records.
The Calguns Foundation, the National Rifle Association and the California Rifle and Pistol Association sent letters to oppose to the ordinance. “These ordinances are mainly to harass the law-abiding gun owners, ” said Gene Hoffman, president of the Calguns Foundation, adding that there is currently no ammunition store on the Oakland map to regulate.
According to the Department of Justice, there are currently 8,539 Oakland residents that have purchased firearms legally over the past five years. Oakland gun purchasers “will continue to have to drive long distances or make two trips because there is a 10-day purchase waiting period to buy new firearms, which they could otherwise use to defend themselves in their homes,” said Hoffman.
Kevin Thomason, an Oakland board member of the Calguns Foundation, agreed. “The most worrisome thing is what if my guns get lost and stolen? I have to report it in 48 hours, but what if I am on vacation and couldn’t do it?” he said.
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