Measure to restore concealed weapon limits fails by a single vote

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California lawmakers failed early Thursday to replace limits on carrying concealed weapons that were struck down by a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

A measure that would have enacted more than three dozen new restrictions failed by one vote as lawmakers adjourned. Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino, who pushed for the bill along with Attorney General Rob Bonta, promised to reintroduce the legislation on the day lawmakers reconvene in December after the November election.

“California was made less safe tonight by not passing the bill to make us consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision,” Portantino said. “It’s unfortunate, it’s sad, it’s surprising.”

The Supreme Court in June overturned a New York law requiring that people seeking a license to carry a gun in public demonstrate a particular need, such as a direct threat to their safety.

California is among a half-dozen states with similar requirements that are scrambling to make adjustments under the ruling that made their existing laws unenforceable, with New York proceeding with its new limits even as California’s effort failed.

The goal was to “push the envelope” without triggering another Supreme Court reversal, Portantino previously said of his bill.

Bonta also said “the safety of Californians” is at risk without a replacement.

“There would be a huge influx of applicants now that the ‘just cause’ component has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, and not enough safety precautions for the individuals who are seeking that,” Bonta said as he unsuccessfully pushed for the bill’s passage. “If this bill doesn’t pass, people who haven’t had a comprehensive safety evaluation can get a concealed weapon and bring it into (sensitive) places” like schools, playgrounds, voting booths and sports stadiums.

Bonta called the failed measure “a completely constitutional response that promotes the safety of Californians from gun violence.”

But the measure never obtained the 54 votes it needed in the 80-member Assembly to take effect immediately. It fell one vote short of that two-thirds majority before ultimately failing on a 52-23 vote as time ran out.

Opponents said the bill violated the intent of the high court’s decision while taking aim at law-abiding gun owners instead of concentrating on criminals who aren’t likely to follow the law.

“The bait and switch of this bill is disingenuous,” objected Republican Assemblyman Thurston “Smitty” Smith. “This response to a disagreement with the Supreme Court’s decision is an unconstitutional attempt at finding a work-around.”

Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, who carried the bill in the Assembly, said it was intended to keep guns legally out of the hands of those who might be dangerous. It struck the appropriate balance between public safety and the rights of gun owners, he said, while being consistent with the Supreme Court ruling.

“Increased public carrying of firearms leads to more violence,” Jones-Sawyer argued unsuccessfully. “More guns on the street equals more chances for deadly violence, more chances those guns to end up in the wrong hands.”

Restrictions would have included raising the minimum age from 18 to 21, requiring at least 16 hours of training, and setting new standards for background checks that include repeated fingerprinting, at least three character references, and a review of applicants’ public social media posts.

The proposal keyed on the justices allowing a ban on weapons in sensitive areas, including more than two-dozen such no-go zones in California.

Among them: Schools, courts, government buildings, correctional institutions, hospitals and other medical facilities, airports, public transportation, specified public gatherings, businesses where liquor is sold for onsite consumption, public parks or athletic facilities, casinos, sports arenas, libraries, churches, zoos, museums, amusement parks, banks, voting centers, and any business unless it has a sign saying licensees may possess their firearm.

The prohibition would have encompassed the entire properties, including parking lots.

Opponents said lawmakers misinterpreted a recognition of “sensitive places” by the late Justice Antonin Scalia in another landmark firearms ruling in 2008. Scalia mentioned schools and government buildings — and that’s all he meant, argued Gun Owners of California.

The group further objected that the legislation would make 18- to 20-year-olds “half-citizens” by barring them from carrying concealed weapons, and that lawmakers are increasing restrictions on some of “the most law-abiding citizens in the state” — those who obtain the carry permits.

Lawmakers are “not getting at the crux at the gun violence problem that we are experiencing…. It is criminals and other prohibited persons who are getting these guns and committing mass murder,” Assembly GOP Leader James Gallagher said as lawmakers added the amendments last week. “The problem is not law-abiding people. The problem is crime and we need to do something about it. We need to have real enforcement.”

Advocates for gun restrictions and gun owners’ rights further split on whether the pending California measure complies with the Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

The bill “would help California effectively respond to U.S. Supreme Court’s recent ruling … and help protect the public from risks the ruling might otherwise pose to communities’ health and safety in our state,” said the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

It promotes “more robust vetting” to make sure those who are dangerous aren’t legally carrying weapons in public; better training for those who lawfully carry; and bars weapons in “especially sensitive places,” the group said.

The bill’s provisions “are consistent with standards affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Giffords said, and are similar to restrictions in at least 21 and as many as 43 other states.

But the Firearms Policy Coalition said the many restrictions would “make public carry all but impossible,” allow denials based on social media posts alone, require business owners to publicly say where they stand on gun rights, and add more subjectivity to officials’ review of applications in violation of the Supreme Court’s decision.

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