SACRAMENTO -- Nearly four months after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., and even as gun control legislation appears stalled in Congress, California's Legislature took its first steps toward further tightening its already strong firearm laws Tuesday, when a panel approved a bill to restrict ammunition sales.
Under a measure carried by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, people would have to buy ammunition from a licensed dealer and provide identification. The bill, AB48, was approved by the Democratic-controlled Public Safety Committee on a party-line 5-2 vote. It was the first of nearly two dozen bills legislators will soon address to combat gun violence.
Sales of ammunition would also have to be reported to the state Department of Justice, which would check the names against a registry of prohibited gun owners -- a tool to allow authorities to seize guns from those who are banned from possessing them because of criminal or mental health histories. In addition, local law enforcement agencies would be alerted to anyone purchasing more than 3,000 rounds of ammunition within a five-day period.
Also prohibited would be the sale of kits that gun owners use to convert 10-round magazines into high-capacity magazines.
Unlike most states, California already prohibits gun owners from possessing magazines that have more than 10 rounds. Large-capacity magazines are the "instrument of choice" for those involved in rampage shooting, an Assembly analysis said.
"Think about the Newtown massacre," Skinner said. "The shooter was only shooting for six minutes. And how many children died?"
Twenty children and six adults died at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14 when Adam Lanza, carrying 30-round magazines, fired 154 bullets from a military-style Bushmaster rifle.
The Connecticut Legislature on Tuesday reached a bipartisan agreement to put forward some of the most far-reaching gun control laws in the country, including universal background checks and an expanded ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Connecticut also will establish a registry of "dangerous weapon offenders" and mandate that gun owners obtain "eligibility" certificates to buy bullets, rifles and shotguns.
California legislators are considering other bills that would require permit fees and taxes on ammunition.
Opponents, including the National Rifle Association, blasted Skinner's bill on ammunition, saying it would infringe on the simple tradition of a father teaching his son how to shoot a gun safely.
"The way this is written is if I, as a father, take my son to go shooting and I give him ammunition, I am not an authorized ammunition dealer, so I will be in violation of the law, and my son would be in violation of the law," said Sam Paredes, executive director of the Gun Owners of California.
Boy Scouts wouldn't be able to have hunter safety programs or shooting merit badges, he added.
"This bill would prohibit me from inviting you to the range and give you ammunition to teach you how guns work," Paredes told Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the chairman of the Public Safety Committee.
Ammiano, a former stand-up comedian who is gay, responded: "Thank you. I'd rather hit somebody with my purse."
California's Legislature passed a ban on assault weapons in 1989 and strengthened it in 1999 by prohibiting the sale or purchase of large-capacity magazines, though it allowed those who already had them to keep them. A cottage industry of sorts grew out of repair kits that large-capacity owners used to maintain their magazines. Now conversion kits are commonly available, said Amanda Wilcox of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"They're not buying large-capacity magazines, but they can assemble parts to make brand-new large-capacity magazines," Wilcox said. "It's clearly violating the intent and spirit of the law."
Wilcox and her husband, Nick, of Grass Valley, became gun control advocates after their daughter, Laura, was killed in 2001 in a shooting rampage that left three dead at a mental health clinic in Nevada County.
"Californians know that we can have these laws, strengthen them and close loopholes like we are doing this year and not stop law-abiding, sane gun owners' rights to get a gun," Wilcox said. "Gun sales are off the charts. We are not stopping people from buying guns."
And though overall gun violence has been down during the last two decades since California instituted many of its tough gun control laws, there is still a need to cut it down further, said Skinner, who noted that Oakland alone had 700 incidents resulting in gunshot wounds last year.
"We really need to address this epidemic of gun violence, and right now bullets are too easy to buy," Skinner said. "We have no safeguards on bullets."
AB 48 by Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, would:
Require that ammunition sales be made by licensed firearms dealers.
Require buyers to present identification when they purchase ammunition.
Require firearms dealers to report ammunition sales to the state Department of Justice and inform local law enforcement when someone buys 3,000 rounds of ammunition or more within a five-day period.
Prohibit the sale of kits that allow gun owners to convert their guns into assault-style weapons that can fire more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading.