Answering some reader e-mails on gun control

Having done a ton of reporting on gun control in the past month, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of mail I get from readers – some thoughtful and constructive, but mostly angry rants.

So where better to address some of it than here?

First, let me dispel a few myths. Many people have angrily urged me to “get my facts straight” and stop reporting that Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn. The fact is: It’s true.

Yes, I’ve seen the video clip from NBC’s Today show which reported that Lanza had taken four handguns into the school but left the rifle in his car. That video is wrong; it was based on unnamed sources and aired Dec. 15, the day after the shooting, before authorities had briefed the media on what weapons were actually used. The correct information was released later that day. But this video clip has been reposted so many times since – with or without the knowledge that it’s dead wrong – that Connecticut State Police felt compelled to re-issue the correct information a few weeks ago.

Also, a few people have e-mailed me suggesting that Lanza, or Lanza alone, wasn’t responsible for the shooting. I’ve seen no credible evidence anywhere to suggest otherwise, and I have no patience for unsubstantiated conspiracy theories.

Now, on to some specifics. In response to my article in today’s editions about background checks, one reader noted that I “failed to mention that the government only prosecutes a small fraction of the people denied firearm purchases because of background checks. …We need to enforce the laws we have already.”

Actually, it’s not a federal crime for your background check to result in a denial – it’s a federal crime to lie about the information you submit for the background check, and Vice President Joe Biden did say the government lacks resources to go after those who do, even though it’s punishable by up to 10 years behind bars.

I agree that more efforts to punish those who are caught lying would be great, and that’s a very good topic for a future story; this story, however, was first and foremost about background checks keeping guns out of the hands of people who are legally prohibited from owning them. If they were caught lying, they didn’t get the guns and so the system worked at least that much.

I’ll dissect one of the more radical rants I’ve received, after the jump….
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Nancy Pelosi endorses Mike Honda for 2014

OK, OK, we get it already: The Democratic Party’s top leaders do NOT want former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna to challenge fellow Democrat Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in 2014.

Just days after President Obama’s outlandishly early endorsement of Honda, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi endorsed Honda today as well.

Pelosi and Honda“Congressman Mike Honda’s life has been a tribute to the quintessential American ideals of equality and opportunity for all,” Pelosi, D-San Francisco, said in a news release from Honda’s campaign. “From a childhood spent in an internment camp, Mike has risen to the heights of American leadership – as one of the top Democrats on the powerful Appropriations Committee and a critical voice for fairness, the rights of LGBT couples and all families.

“Mike is a bold and effective leader who understands the needs of Silicon Valley and the 17th District, ensuring American competitiveness and fighting for American manufacturing, comprehensive immigration reform, STEM education, and technological innovation,” Pelosi continued. “We need his continued leadership for our nation in the House of Representatives, and I am proud to endorse him.”

Honda, 71, said he’s honored by Pelosi’s endorsement.

“Since my first campaign for Congress in 2000, Leader Pelosi’s guidance, support, and leadership have been imperative. She is the beacon of our Democratic Party here in the Bay Area and throughout the nation, and I am thankful for her endorsement,” he said. “I am proud to represent one of the nation’s most diverse districts, here in Silicon Valley – our nation’s hub of technology and innovation – and I look forward to continue working with Leader Pelosi on an agenda that keeps our Valley and our nation moving forward.”

Obama’s and Pelosi’s endorsements clearly are meant as howitzers trained squarely at any trial balloon that Khanna, 36, may care to float; he has said only that he’s considering his options, and he had declined to comment on Obama’s endorsement.

Still, Honda wouldn’t be wasting this kind of ammo on someone unless he sees that person as a threat. Khanna is the former Commerce Department official who raised a record-breaking $1.2 million in the last quarter of 2011 but chose not to run against Pete Stark, D-Fremont. Stark subsequently was unseated by Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, and rumor has it Khanna’s focus has shifted to Honda’s 17th Congressional District, home to many of Khanna’s donors and the first majority Asian-American district in the continental United States.

Don’t forget: Obama and Pelosi had endorsed Stark, too, and the 17th District has a much higher percentage of no-party-preference voters – almost 32 percent – who won’t feel a need to vote in accordance with the party’s wishes.


Bill would allow secret armed school ‘marshals’

With Assembly Democrats having proposed a slew of new gun control legislation in the wake of last month’s horrific school massacre in Connecticut, Assembly Republicans are about to roll out a gun-violence plan of their own: Arming teachers or other school employees in secret.

Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Hesperia, is holding a news conference tomorrow morning at the State Capitol to announce the introduction of “the School Marshal Plan” to protect children from violent intruders in the classroom.

“This measure authorizes school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools to use general purpose funds to provide training to qualified, volunteer teachers, administrators, or janitors who are willing to carry firearms on campus as part of the school marshal plan,” the news release says.

“In light of recent tragedies involving violent intruders in our classrooms, we have a moral imperative to protect the children in our schools. We must do so without abandoning our oath and duty to safeguard the Constitutional rights of every Californian,” the release says. “This bill will empower local school districts to protect the lives entrusted to their care, and will protect the School Marshal from identification so they do not become targets.”

The bill’s original co-authors include Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield; Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills; Diane Harkey, R-San Juan Capistrano; Brian Jones, R-Santee; and Don Wagner, R-Irvine.

Steven Colbert just last week was making fun of an Ohio school district that has chosen to let its janitors to carry guns.


Federal judge to SF nudists: Keep it zipped.

A federal judge today dismissed a lawsuit challenging San Francisco’s new ordinance banning most public nudity, clearing the way for it to take effect this Friday.

District Judge Edward Chen’s order sided with the city’s arguments that the constitutionality of local restrictions on public nudity has been repeatedly upheld in the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, and that such bans are a valid and longstanding feature of municipal codes throughout the nation.

“Even though we’re not surprised by Judge Chen’s ruling, we’re gratified by an outcome that affirms established case law and preserves reasonable exceptions for permitted events,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a news release.

“Ironically, the nudism advocates’ equal protection claim raised legal questions about the validity of exceptions that the Board and Mayor approved, which allow nudity at events like Bay to Breakers and the Folsom Street Fair,” Herrera said. “The plaintiffs took an unlikely position in their case that if they couldn’t be naked everywhere, no one could be naked anywhere. We believed their legal challenge to be baseless, and we’re grateful that the court agreed.”

Chen ruled that the nudism advocates’ First Amendment-based challenge lacked merit because “public nudity alone is not expression protected by the First Amendment,” and because the ordinance was “not substantially overbroad.” He also rejected their arguments that exemptions for such permitted events such as Bay to Breakers and the Folsom Street Fair violated constitutional Equal Protection guarantees, holding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that the exceptions lacked a rational basis.

Chen dismissed this challenge without leave to amend, but left the door open for nudism advocates to amend their pleading later with “as-applied” claims – meaning, after they’re arrested – provided they can do so.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors late last year adopted an ordinance barring people from baring their genitals on public streets, sidewalks, and most other public rights-of-way as well as on transit vehicles and in transit stations. Exceptions were carved out for permitted events and festivals, and for children under the age of five.


Lawmakers react to Obama immigration speech

Here’s how some of the Bay Area’s members of Congress responded to President Obama’s call for immigration reform today.

From Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Border Security:

“Today I heard the President call for our country to take up the great work of comprehensive immigration reform. He voiced his full support for many of the principles I have worked to advance my entire life both as a Member of Congress and before that as a young immigration lawyer. Like the President, I believe we have an historic opportunity to fix the nation’s broken immigration system from top to bottom in a bipartisan fashion so it works for families and our economy.

“I’ve never forgotten my immigrant roots. My grandfather immigrated to America from Sweden, walking off the boat early in the 20th century with little more than a strong desire to make a better life in America. He didn’t finish school and always spoke with a heavy accent. But he was so proud of his U.S. citizenship that he hung his framed certificate on the wall. With a lifetime of hard work, his family built better lives for themselves and their children to pursue the American Dream, and today his granddaughter is a Member of Congress. Immigration forged our country into the great nation that we are today, and now more than ever it will be key to driving the United States forward in this new century.”

From Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland:

“I am encouraged by the momentum to address immigration reform. As a nation of immigrants we need a comprehensive plan that promotes equity, long term growth and economic well-being. I will continue to fight for a plan that strengthens families, builds the American workforce and provides a roadmap for every American that aspires to citizenship.”

From Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose:

“I applaud President Obama for his extraordinary leadership in this momentous effort to forge long overdue comprehensive immigration reform. Yesterday, a Senate bipartisan working group released an unprecedented set of core legislative principles to resolve our broken immigration system. Today, President Obama advanced this promising and historic moment, outlining a vision that embraces our nation’s long-standing traditions for protecting all families, including same-sex partners, and accepting the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

“Under the President’s leadership, we are on the verge of reform that will bring millions of people out of the shadows and honor the dreams of brilliant and hard-working students, youth who are essentially Americans without social security numbers. Our country nears the possibility of greater technological innovation and economic prosperity, where persons with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) will be allowed to join our workforce and advance our nation’s global economic competitiveness.

“There is no question that our broken immigration system has torn countless families apart and brought great fear and pain to our communities. There are currently over 4.55 million people, including 1.96 million Asian and Pacific Islanders, in the family immigration backlog waiting unconscionable periods of time to reunite with their loved ones. Asian American and Pacific Islanders are disproportionately impacted by bureaucratic immigration delays. Families in my district, particularly those from China, India, and the Philippines, suffer from the most extreme backlog, often waiting decades before receiving a green card.

“There are tens of thousands of LGBT families in immigration limbo throughout the country, prohibited from sponsoring their partners for residency. Judy Rickard, a constituent from my district in California, and her same-sex, bi-national partner are being torn apart by unjust immigration laws. Judy and others face an unequal reality compared with heterosexual couples.

“Next month, to address an outdated, inefficient, and discriminatory immigration system, I will reintroduce the Reuniting Families Act, a bill that reunites families by classifying lawful permanent resident spouses, children, and same-sex, bi-national partners as ‘immediate relatives,’ and exempting them from numerical caps on family immigration. This legislation will reduce visa backlog and relieve families from prolonged and unnecessary separation and heartache.

“As Immigration Taskforce Chair of the Congressional Asian and Pacific Caucus (CAPAC) and LGBT Caucus vice-chair, I offer my utmost gratitude to President Obama for calling for the reunification of all families, regardless of sexual orientation, and the elimination of discrimination in immigration law against same-sex partners. We must never forget the teachings and words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – ‘injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ We must never cease to protect the rights, visibility, and equal treatment of the most vulnerable among us. Our nation will be made stronger through reform that is comprehensive and inclusive, humane and just.”

More after the jump…
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Bills push for ammo tax, assault weapon seizure

Among the gun-control bills being rolled out by Assembly Democrats are a pair from a freshman East Bay lawmaker to tax ammunition and perhaps move toward confiscating banned assault weapons.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta’s AB 187 would place a tax on the sale of ammunition in California with proceeds going to a high-crime prevention fund that would be used in targeted areas suffering from high violent crime rates.

“In communities like Oakland and Stockton, parents are afraid to let their children play outside while gun violence ravages the streets,” Bonta, D-Oakland, said in a news release. “We must take swift action to get these communities the resources they need, and in AB 187 I propose to do so through a tax on ammunition.”

Far more controversial is Bonta’s AB 174, which for the moment reads as follows:

Under current law, certain banned weapons are permitted under various “grandfathering in” clauses. It is the intent of the Legislature to subsequently amend this measure to include provisions that would end all of those exemptions.

Rob Bonta“State laws on the books currently restrict the purchase and sale of assault weapons and large capacity magazines, but almost all laws only apply on a going-forward basis and exempted weapons remain on our streets,” Bonta said. “With AB 174 we will closely examine this loophole and do what’s right for the children and people of California.”

Ending any grandfather clauses presumably would mean a mandatory buyback of all banned assault weapons and large-capacity magazines – just the kind of registration-driven confiscation that gun-rights advocates have been warning about for decades, and that they’ve sworn to resist.

According to the state Justice Department, 77,103 Californians own 166,424 registered, grandfathered assault weapons.

Other Assembly bills touted today include:

    AB 169 by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, to prohibit people who’ve been exempted from restrictions on buying guns that the state designated as unsafe from selling or transferring those guns to anyone who isn’t also exempt. California maintains a list of state-tested handguns that are approved for sale in the state.
    AB 170 by Assemblyman Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, would allow only individuals – not corporations or other associations – to be issued permits for assault weapons and machine guns. “In the same way that we prohibit sharing driver licenses, we should not allow dangerous weapons to be passed from hand to hand within an organization. One person, one permit just makes sense,” Bradford said.

And, yet to be introduced:

    A bill from Assemblyman Luis Alejo, D-Salinas, to prohibit those involved in gun or ammunition trafficking from possessing any guns or ammo for 10 years.
    A bill from Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, to tighten gun-safety laws already in place by adding a safe-storage requirement when a person prohibited from gun possession is living in the home. Ammiano’s bill also would let the state Justice Department extend the state’s 10-day waiting period when necessary for background checks.
    Another bill from Dickinson also to impose an ammunition tax – this one at a nickel per bullet, with proceeds going to an existing program that screens young children in grades 1 through 3 for mild to moderate mental illness and then intervenes to help those in need.
    A third bill from Dickinson to require CalPERS and CalSTRS to divest any existing pension fund investments from companies that manufacture, sell, distribute or market firearms or ammunition, and to prohibit any such investments in the future.

“Although California already has some of the nation’s best laws to reduce the incidence of violent and fatal shootings, we are always prepared to move when we can improve the safety of our communities and families,” Ammiano, who chairs the Assembly Public Safety Committee, said in a news release. “The Assembly is acting on this challenge and looks forward to seeing other proposals from the Senate. We will work with the other house to protect Californians from those who would misuse weapons. We will take a careful look at each bill when it comes to the committee.”