‘Equal powers of destruction’: California bill would limit firearm sales to 1 a month

© Lucy Nicholson
California lawmakers are advocating for stronger local and federal gun laws following the San Bernardino mass shooting in December. Already the state with the strictest gun laws, a new bill introduced would limit future gun owners to one weapon per month.

"It is mind-boggling that a person – no matter their intentions – could purchase as many rifles or shotguns that they want at any given time," Democratic Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (Los Angeles) said in a statement about his bill. "This is a common-sense solution to gun violence in California."

Santiago said handguns and long guns "hold equal powers of destruction" and should be regulated to prevent Californians from stockpiling weapons. More than 538,000 long guns were sold by California retailers in 2013, and more than half the illegal firearms recovered by law enforcement are long guns, according to the California Department of Justice.

The proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 1674, would limit Californians to buying a maximum of one rifle or shotgun a month. The bill was designed to respond to a trend in the state for purchasing long guns rather than handguns, and crafted with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

A law in the state, passed in 1999, already limits the sale of handguns to one a month. It was also the first state to prohibit semi-automatic rifles after five children were gunned down by a man with a semi-automatic AK-47 in a 1989 shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton.

A National Rifle Association spokesperson told Courthouse News that "the bill doesn't prevent violence and instead restrictions Californians from exercise their Second Amendment rights."

"Criminals do, always have and will continue to acquire their firearms through illegal means, so they can stockpile as many as they like regardless of what laws are in effect," NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter told Courthouse News. "If policymakers were serious about reducing violence, they would focus on prosecuting gun crimes and keeping criminals off the streets."

The legislation comes just a month after a deadly mass shooting in San Bernardino that left 14 people killed and 21 injured, which was carried out by a married couple and branded an "act of terrorism" by President Barack Obama. The couple, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, was killed by police in a shootout following the attack. The couple used two pistols and two rifles, and both were obtained legally in California but not by the shooters. One of the rifles had been altered to function like an automatic weapon, and the other was changed to accommodate a high-capacity, 30-round magazine prohibited in the state.

Other bills introduced last week seek to close a legal loophole that allows firearms manufacturers to include "bullet buttons" that let rifle owners exchange empty ammunition magazines for full ones.

"These are essentially assault weapons," Ari Freilich of the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence told the Sacramento Bee.