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The California Front

While D.C. stumbles, the Golden State takes on gun reform



'You see a lot of the same ideas introduced in Sacramento and Washington," says North Bay congressman and gun owner Jared Huffman, speaking on parallel gun-control efforts ongoing in California and Congress—efforts that are now in the spotlight following the Orlando mass-shooting two weeks ago.

The big difference? The California Legislature actually passes a pretty regular raft of gun-control bills that have teeth to them, and Gov. Brown even signs some of them. The state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country and has enacted limits on, for example, the magazine capacities of assault-style weapons that include the AR-15, a version of which was used in the Orlando massacre.

California law puts a 10-round limit on magazine capacity, and over the past year, with the San Bernardino killings as a backdrop, the state has considered numerous bills that mirror failed efforts in Congress to rein in the gun lobby and its Congressional lapdogs. The state has extensive background-check procedures, and yet Congress can't even be moved to close a loophole in gun shows that undermines the background check.

California may have tough gun laws, but its border with other states is even more porous than its border with Mexico, and there's no wall to keep the flow of illegal weapons out of the state. "In Sacramento, they can actually move forward on these bills," says Huffman, "but the problem is they don't have much effect if there's no federal law."

California is further tweaking its ammunition-capacity regulations to make them even more restrictive. Assemblyman Marc Levine offered a bill after Orlando, for instance, that would expand the definition of "assault weapon" in this state to include weapons with a so-called "bullet button" that allows a shooter to quickly switch out expended magazines. Meanwhile, Congress can't even pass a bill to eliminate high-capacity magazines.

And where Congress has notoriously refused to fund a study on the negative health impacts of gun violence on society, California has taken up the cudgel and offered a state bill that would do the same.

"We're working from the same playbook," says Huffman of gun-control efforts in California and Congress. "We'd like to see certain military-style assault weapons banned, high-capacity ammunition systems banned, we'd like to see far better safeguards and background checks, we'd like to see safety systems, locking systems, biometrics—that's why you see similar ideas being introduced in the two bodies. The difference is, in one place they go there to die."

Huffman sounded downright despondent in a Marin Independent Journal story about gun violence and congressional inaction that came out right after Orlando. "Despondent may not be a bad term, but I don't want to suggest that I'm overwhelmed and giving up," he says. "I am absolutely dismayed at the callousness and lack of empathy by the Republican majority, but we're not giving up—we're doing something every week to get these guys on record and continuously giving them the opportunity to do the right thing."

After a heartrending filibuster led by Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, designed to push Senate Republicans to a vote—any vote—on gun control, and House Democratic protest at the latest round of congressional moments of silence in service of unanswered "thoughts and prayers" for the victims, Huffman last week co-signed a bill introduced by Napa congressman Mike Thompson that aims to patch a hole in the nation's effort to protect itself from attacks committed under the flag of terror, if not ISIS itself. Under Thompson's bill, if you're on a terrorist watch list, you're not buying a gun without the FBI getting a notification. On Monday the senate shot down a similar bill, along with three others.

The hurdle for such seemingly common-sense efforts, as Republicans have highlighted, is that American citizens, including sexually confused Muslim-American wife-beaters, have a constitutional right to due process—and that once you've been cleared of a crime or subjected to an investigation that doesn't yield a charge, you should not be punished. This country does not typically remove rights from people on the principle of "Well, we wouldn't put it past him."

Huffman defends the Thompson bill as being limited, and necessary. "We're only talking about a notification process," he says, "and I don't think that's a huge intrusion into due process or privacy. I don't have a problem [with notification] for someone who is investigated for terrorist ties if they go out and buy an AR-15."

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