GOP senators demand hearing on firearms program

California State Senate Republicans want to know why Attorney General Kamala Harris hasn’t cracked down harder on convicts and mentally ill people with guns – but Harris’ office says it’s making progress and can’t do the task overnight.

The GOP caucus wrote a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Tuesday to request an oversight hearing on why the state still has a huge backlog in its Armed and Prohibited Persons program (APPS), a database that cross-references California firearm owners with domestic violence restraining orders, mental health records and criminal histories to identify people who can’t legally own firearms.

Harris’ office reported to the Legislature this month that the 21,249-entry backlog that existed at 2014’s start grew by 7,031 more names last year due to new firearms prohibitions.

But 3,922 names were cleared from the database due to warrants being cleared, restraining orders being vacated by judges, or deaths, and 6,879 more names were cleared after investigation. Harris reported her agents investigated 7,573 cases, resulting in the seizure of 3,286 firearms and 137 arrests.

That still leaves 17,479 prohibited persons on the list, holding up to about 35,000 firearms and 1,419 assault weapons, Harris’ report said.

Lawmakers passed and Gov. Jerry Brown in May 2013 signed SB 140, authorizing $24 million more for the state Justice Department to put toward APPS over the following three years. Harris said in a news release at the time that this would 36 more agents for the program, which she and staffers said was a high priority. But Republicans say only half that many have been hired so far.

Now the GOP lawmakers want a joint oversight hearing by the Senate Public Safety Committee and the relevant budget subcommittee to review the APPS program. Specifically, they want to know how 40 percent of the SB 140 money was spent without hiring all the staff needed to erase the backlog; Harris’ plan for future spending to actually erase the backlog; and why Harris’ report left out information – which they say is required under SB 140 – regarding the breakdown of why each person in the APPS is prohibited from having a firearm.

Kristin Ford, Harris’ press secretary, responded Tuesday that “removing guns from dangerous, violent individuals who are prohibited by law from owning them has been a top priority of the California Department of Justice.”

“Upon taking office Attorney General Harris hired agents and urged the legislature to fund efforts to eliminate a backlog that was created ten years ago,” Ford said. “This funding has allowed agents to reduce the backlog for the first time in the program’s history and doubled the average number of guns seized per year.”


Snoop Dogg & Ron Conway do an anti-gun duet

With their minds on their money and their money on their minds, Snoop Dogg and Ron Conway have teamed up to call for divestment from the gun industry.

It’s hard to picture the iconic Los Angeles rapper and the renowned San Francisco “angel investor” kicking back over some gin and juice, but they’ve gone in together on a public service announcement for a cause they both hold dear. Conway is calling on the c-suite of tech companies to offer socially responsible, “no guns allowed” investment options, and Snoop Dogg is enlisting the support of the entertainment industry and his fans to declare #ImUnloading in the name of those touched by the tragedy of gun violence.

Also in the video are Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner and Los Angeles Clippers small forward Matt Barnes; actress/singer Margot Bingham; singer/songwriter/producer Aloe Blacc; singer/songwriter Jhené Aiko; and League Of Young Voters’ Executive Director Rob Biko Baker.

“I’m unloading for my loved ones that I’ve lost,” Snoop Dogg said. “I’m going all in for gun-free investing.”

The PSA, from Campaign to Unload and States United to Prevent Gun Violence, is the second installment of support for their Unload Your 401k project, a resource that lets people find out whether their retirement funds are invested in gun makers and supporting groups like the National Rifle Assocaition.

“There is a straight line from gun industry investment, to gun industry profits, to funding of the NRA,” Jennifer Fiore, Campaign to Unload’s executive director, said in a news release. “Half the value of these companies comes from mutual funds and most of the ‘investors’ in these funds have no idea they are inadvertently part of the problem. Now they can be part of the solution.”

Snoop Dogg partnered with the League of Young Voters in 2013 to launch “No Guns Allowed,” a non-partisan anti-gun violence campaign to raise awareness about our nation’s ongoing battle with gun violence. The campaign was inspired by Snoop Dogg’s peaceful song of the same name from his Reincarnated album.


House members reintroduce background-check bill

A bipiartisan group of House members led by the Bay Area’s Mike Thompson and Pete King, R-N.Y., has re-introduced a bill that would require background checks for all firearm purchases, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads.

But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the bill seems doomed from the get-go – especially given that it went nowhere in the last Congress.

H.R. 1217, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015, would provide exceptions for family and friend transfers. Its original co-authors are Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.

Mike Thompson“This anti-criminal, pro-Second Amendment bill will help keep spouses, kids and communities safe by preventing dangerous people from getting guns,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a news release. “Background checks are the first line of defense in our efforts to keep guns from criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill, and Congress should fortify that first line of defense by passing our bipartisan bill to close the system’s loopholes.”

King noted the bill also would improve state and federal record-keeping to strengthen the background-check database, and would create a commission to examine mass-violence incidents.

“When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have guns,” he said. “It is estimated that four out of 10 gun buyers do not go through a background check when purchasing a firearm – meaning those with criminal records can easily bypass the system. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence we must do more.”

The bill’s authors say studies show that every day where background checks are used, the system stops more than 170 felons, some 50 domestic abusers, and nearly 20 fugitives from buying a gun. But in much of the nation, no system is in place to prevent these same prohibited purchasers from buying identical guns at a gun show, over the internet, or through a newspaper ad with no questions asked.

But the bill also bans the government from creating a federal registry and makes the misuse of records a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It also provides exceptions for firearms transfers between family members, friends and hunting buddies; lets active military personnel buy guns in the state in which they are stationed; and allows interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the bill Thompson and King authored introduced in 2013 – but though it had 188 co-sponsors, H.R. 1565 was never even heard in committee. It’s also the same as the Manchin-Toomey amendment that failed in the Senate in April 2013.

The National Rifle Association opposes expanding background checks, claiming they won’t stop criminals from getting firearms by theft or via the black market.

But Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said this should be “a no-brainer.”

Ninety-two percent of the American public supports this measure to keep guns out of the hands of people like domestic abusers, rapists, and fugitives,” Gross said. “More importantly, it will save lives. We need to let our representatives know that we will not tolerate them putting the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the lives and safety of the citizens they have been elected to represent.”

This new bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees; don’t hold your breath waiting for a hearing date


Mike Honda offers body armor, gun control bills

Rep. Mike Honda introduced a package of three bills this week that he said will increase public safety and aid law enforcement – and are sure to drive gun-rights activists into a rage.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, on Wednesday introduced H.R. 378, the Responsible Body Armor Possession Act, which would prohibit the purchase, sale, or possession of military-grade body armor by anyone except certain authorized users such as first-responders and law enforcement. This is his second try at such legislation; the bill he introduced last summer died in the Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

He also introduced H.R. 377, the Homemade Firearms Accountability Act, which would require that guns that are self-assembled or manufactured at home be regulated the same as those that are purchased. That means all homemade guns would have to have serial numbers. Here too, Honda tried this in the last Congress, but his bill died in the Judiciary Committee without a hearing.

But H.R. 376, the Home-Assembled Firearms Restriction Act, is a new one – it would ban the sale and purchase of “incomplete lower receivers,” which are easily purchased and converted into functioning firearms.

AR15 incomplete lower receiverThis could be the most controversial of the three. There’s a big trade in incomplete lower receivers, which often let gun enthusiasts build weapons they wouldn’t be able to buy in stores due to existing laws.

“These bills are sensible, reasonable measures to limit the damage that can be inflicted by guns and those who mean harm with them,” Honda said in a news release. “We have seen too many people injured and killed by guns to just stand by and do nothing. These bills will modernize our gun laws to reflect how weapons are currently getting into the wrong hands.”

Honda’s office said the whole package is supported by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Newark Police Chief James Leal, Stop Handgun Violence, the Coalition for Peace Action, and the Violence Policy Center. The body-armor bill also is supported by the Peace Officers Research Association of California and the California State Sheriffs’ Association. And the serial-number bill also is supported by Third Way and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Honda’s office said he’ll be introducing legislation in each of this Congress’ first six weeks “that addresses a key part of the modern progressive agenda.” Last week, he offered four bills on manufacturing and technology; in coming weeks he’ll tackle human trafficking, STEM education, advanced technology, and the environment and energy infrastructure.


Bay Area’s big cities have gun buybacks Saturday

The Bay Area’s three biggest cities are holding gun buyback events Saturday, a day short of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting massacre’s second anniversary.

2013 San Jose buybackSan Jose’s event runs from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. (or sooner, if the money runs out) at P.A.L. Stadium, 680 S. 34th St., hosted by the San Jose Police Department, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office, Councilman Xavier Campos, County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and Assemblywoman Nora Campos.

“I am proud to have started this event last year, that saw 463 weapons get turned in, and even more proud that it will be continuing this year and tentatively for any years to come,” Xavier Campos said. “The community has spoken loud and clear that public safety is number one. This event will look to help take dangerous, unused, and illegal weapons off the street in an effort to help our Police Department make our neighborhoods and our city safe for all.”

Oakland’s and San Francisco’s events are partially funded by Gun by Gun, a tech nonprofit that crowdfunds gun buybacks. As of Thursday, the group had raised more than $70,000 from more than 600 individual donors for buybacks in four cities.

“The crowdfunding campaign is designed to put power back in the hands of the community” said Gun by Gun cofounder Ian Johnston, who was 10 when he lost his father to gun violence. “People are frustrated by the rate of gun violence we experience and they want to see results.”

Oakland’s buyback will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Youth Uprising, 8711 MacArthur Blvd., co-hosted by the Oakland Police Department. Open only to Oakland residents, organizers will offer up to $100 for handguns, shotguns and rifles, and up to $200 for firearms that meet the state’s definition of assault weapons.

San Francisco’s buyback will run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at United Playaz, 1038 Howard Street. Tech investor Ron Conway is matching the first $10,000 in donations to the crowdfunding campaign. The San Francisco Unified School District this week sent home letters to every student’s parent encouraging them to take part in the buyback.

“Gun homicides are the leading cause of death for our young people in San Francisco,” said school board member Matt Haney. “We have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students.”

But critics say this isn’t the way to curb violence.

“Gun buybacks are not only largely meaningless, they are actually dangerous, because they do absolutely nothing to address the underlying issues of violence in our society. They do however offer a great photo opportunity,” Eric Wooten, president of the Liberal Gun Owners Association, wrote in an opinion piece published Thursday by the San Francisco Chronicle. “But after the last photo is snapped and the last tweet tweeted, the entrenched inequities and other societal problems that actually cause violence will still be left unaddressed.”

Unemployment, a biased War on Drugs, and educational disparities are the roots of violence, he wrote.

“What you won’t hear from those supporting this gun buyback is that the number of guns netted is probably less than the number of guns legally bought in the greater Bay Area in just the few hours it took to hold the buyback,” Wooten wrote. “If we want to actually reduce violence, the effort spent on today’s gun buyback would be far better focused on education or other social programs aimed at improving equality of opportunity.”


Supporters rally for ‘gun restraining order’ bill

Advocates of a bill that would create a “gun violence restraining order” system are stepping up their efforts in advance of a state Senate floor vote later this month.

Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, along with several Bay Area police chiefs and gun control advocates, rallied Monday morning outside the Emeryville Police Department in support of AB 1014. Skinner and Santa Barbara Democrats Assemblyman Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson announced the bill soon after a May rampage at UC-Santa Barbara left six students dead.

“When someone is in crisis, the people closest to them are often the first to spot the warning signs, but almost nothing can now be done to get guns out of the hands of someone in crisis,” Skinner said in a news release Monday. “Parents, like the mother who tried to intervene, deserve an effective tool to help prevent these tragedies.”

Modeled on domestic violence laws, AB 1014 creates a process to intervene and potentially prohibit the purchase of firearms and/or remove firearms already in possession by a person who shows warning signs of a risk of violence. Law enforcement or family members would have the right to ask a judge to grant an order prohibiting firearms purchase or possession. Connecticut, Indiana and Texas have similar laws, Skinner’s office said.

Current law lets that process start only when therapists notify police that a client is at risk of committing a violent act. Family members can call police, but if no crime has been committed, or the individual doesn’t meet criteria for an involuntary civil commitment to mental health treatment, there isn’t anything police can do about that person’s firearms.

“AB 1014 fills an important gap in the law that prevents law enforcement from acting to prevent violence before it happens,” Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, a longtime gun-control advocate, said in Skinner’s news release. “This need has been obvious to law enforcement for years. But the time to act is now. The tragedy in Santa Barbara makes that obvious.”

The Senate Public Safety Committee approved the bill on a 5-2 vote June 24, and the Senate Appropriations Committee approved it Friday on a 5-0 vote with two Republicans not voting.