OAKLAND -- With calls for action resounding around the country after the Connecticut school shooting, a new bill to regulate and track ammunition sales could test just how far California is willing to go to tighten some of the nation's strictest gun control laws.
While a national debate rages over whether to reinstate a federal assault weapons ban similar to California's, East Bay Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner wants the state to track every bullet and shotgun shell sold here.
Other gun-control bills are being introduced in California in the wake of recent mass shootings, but AB 48 could be the most far-reaching, affecting every firearm owner in the Golden State.
Law enforcement groups call the proposal overdue, but many hunters and gun-rights supporters call it silly. It's the kind of debate becoming familiar across the nation as lawmakers seize what many see as a watershed moment to advance tougher gun-control measures historically defeated by the powerful gun lobby.
Noting that 2,800 Californians were slain by gunfire last year, Skinner, D-Berkeley, unveiled her bill Monday at a news conference in Oakland, a city plagued by gun violence. "We've had enough," she said. "Buying bullets should require the same scrutiny as buying guns."
True Vine Ministries pastor Zachary Carey said his hometown of Oakland has seen 559 homicides in the past five years and almost 2,700 in the past 25 years, most of which involved guns. State data show San Jose had 165 homicides from 2008 through 2012, including 46 last year, the highest total in two decades.
"This is out of control," Carey said. "This is the first step to change California and to change the nation."
Skinner's AB 48 would require the following:
It also would ban kits that convert ammo feeding devices into high-capacity magazines.
"It takes bullets to kill people with a gun, and when bullets are more readily available than Sudafed, we have a problem," said Oakland City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan.
Current state and federal laws require people buying cold remedies that contain ephedrine or pseudoephedrine -- which can be used to make methamphetamine -- to show ID, and such sales are tracked. But gun-rights activists are quick to note the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee citizens the right to bear Sudafed.
"It's an overblown reaction," Yih-Chau Chang, spokesman for the gun-rights group Responsible Citizens of California, said of Skinner's bill.
Chang, 36, of Dublin, said the bill won't avert future mass shootings as people could still accrue large amounts of ammunition a bit at a time. "It won't be as if someone who's motivated to commit an atrocity won't devise a way to get around this law."
The Legislature in 2009 passed, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed, a law requiring all handgun ammunition sales in the state be made face to face and include a fingerprint registration of the buyer. The courts struck down the law, ruling its definition of handgun ammunition was too vague, but Skinner said it proved such bills can win passage.
Yet Skinner's bill would apply to all ammunition, which could be a tougher sell for Democratic lawmakers in rural areas who don't want to run afoul of hunters.
Still, Emeryville Police Chief Ken James, chairman of the California Police Chiefs Association's firearms committee, said "law enforcement is behind this bill; this is a very important bill."
Skinner acknowledged it could be an uphill battle, even after mass shootings like the one in July at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater -- where the alleged shooter had stockpiled thousands of rounds of ammunition -- and the one in December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
"Any bill like this is difficult," she said, but she's convinced she's building a coalition broad enough to win. Asked whether she'll expect to have any Republican cosponsors, she replied, "I don't know -- we will be asking, and we'll see."
Tom Mattusch, president of the Safari Club International's Bay Area chapter, said that in his experience, most ammunition sellers are licensed firearms dealers too, so requiring that by law might be mostly redundant.
As for regulating and tracking ammunition sales in general, "you've gotta ask why -- in the history of mankind, there's never been a firearm that loaded itself and went out and committed a crime," said Mattusch, 63, of El Granada. "You have one group of people who are trying to restrict the liberties of some other group," he said. "What are they going to legislate next?"
As Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner proposes to regulate and track ammunition sales, other gun-control measures pending before the Legislature include:
SB 47 by state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco: Would prohibit semi-automatic rifles from having "bullet buttons" and "mag magnets," which are add-on devices that allow the gun to be easily reloaded; Yee says such devices are a loophole in the state's existing law which requires that magazines for such weapons be fixed and require a tool to remove.
SB 53 by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles: Would require anyone wishing to buy ammunition in California to first obtain a state purchase permit from the Justice Department, valid for one year and to be issued only after a background check.