Sunday Commentary II: Newsom’s Fight Against Guns is Fraught with Risk

Gun Control
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Polls often show that large majorities of people support greater gun control and gun safety regulations. But what polls don’t show nearly as well is that intensity of belief is often just as important as sheer numbers of supporters.

In 2000, Al Gore, buoyed by polling that showed a majority in favor of greater gun regulations, ran on gun control. The Clinton administration had already implemented the Brady Bill which created a waiting period as well as adding some assault weapons measures.

In the aftermath of a narrow defeat in 2000, polling showed that gun control may have cost Al Gore the election. First, while it was true that nationally a slight majority favored gun control, in the key battleground states, gun control was a losing issue. Moreover, while the supporters of gun control primarily determined whom they voted for based on a variety of issues – the intensity of gun rights supporters pushed them to vote for a candidate often strictly or primarily on the gun issue.

The 2000 election was not an anomaly either – it is widely believed that Tom Bradley in 1982 lost the governor’s race in part because of a gun control initiative that got a number of gun rights supporters, who tend to be conservative, out to vote in a race they otherwise may not have voted in.

So it is with this backdrop that Gavin Newsom – probably himself a 2018 contender for the governor’s race – has launched an initiative drive for a new gun control measure in California.

The measure which would be on the 2016 ballot would, among other things, include a provision to require ammunition buyers to undergo background checks.

In a Facebook post earlier this week, Gavin Newsom posted, “In the last 72 hours — 68 people have been killed and 129 people have been injured due to gun violence in America.” He wrote the following day, “It makes me sick: An average of 87 Americans are killed by gun violence each and every day – we can’t let more of our neighbors, teachers, students, sons and daughters lose their lives to gun violence.”

He continued, “The NRA has repeatedly blocked responsible gun laws, but we will finally win here in California by going straight to voters like you. You can do your part by adding your name to our petition calling for responsible solutions to stop gun violence.”

The Bee reported, “Gun groups on Thursday promised a forceful response to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed ballot initiative to cut down gun violence in California, which includes background checks for ammunition purchases and a ban on the possession of large-capacity magazines.”

The pushback has already come. Brandon Combs of the Firearms Policy Coalition said, “If Gavin Newsom wants to declare war on law-abiding gun owners and Second Amendment rights, we’re certainly going to bring the fight to him.”

The Bee notes that California already has some of the nation’s toughest gun restrictions. These include a 1999 ban on assault weapons such as the AK-47 and a ban on the importation, manufacture and sale of large-capacity ammunition magazines.

On the other hand, “several more recent planned laws in the wake of the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., faltered in the state’s Democratic-run Legislature, or have been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat with a mixed record on firearms.”

Some posted complaints included, “Lt. Gov with all due respect, why are you trying to implement gun control on the law abiding when lawmakers refuse to punish lawbreakers with the gun laws we already have on the books?”

However, this comment does not seem well-founded. California has one of the toughest gun laws on the books. Penal Code section 12022.53 is California’s “use a gun and you’re done” law. It adds 10 years to a prison for anyone convicted of using a gun while committing a fellow. The penalty increases to 20 years if you fire the gun. And 25 to life for killing or seriously injuring another person with a gun.

The enhancement is in addition to any other penalties for the commission of a felony and consecutive to the sentence for the underlying felony.

As the Mercury News analyzed this week, “The move…suggests the incendiary issue is moving again to the center of the political debate…” But they add that “it carries risks for gun-control supporters like Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018, and also for fellow California Democrats running in swing districts in 2016, who could become vulnerable to a conservative backlash.”

The Mercury News added, “Gun control can draw single-issue voters on both sides to the polls. For example, some political analysts believe that Democrat Tom Bradley lost 1982’s gubernatorial election to Republican George Deukmejian because of his endorsement of Proposition 15, which would have imposed stricter handgun controls. The measure sparked a huge backlash and increased voter turnout in the state’s more conservative areas.”

A poll by the PPIC (Public Policy Institute of California) last month found that 65 percent of voters believe laws on gun sales should be stricter, a number that is above the national rate of 52 percent. The poll found 82 percent of Democrats favored these changes as compared to 54 percent of independents and 36 percent of Republicans.

For his part, Mr. Newsom has never been short on bravado, flaunting same-sex marriage laws in San Francisco as mayor which ultimately led to the successful passage of Proposition 8.

At his news conference on Thursday, he said bombastically, “If you’re going to do something, go big.” He added, “There’s no doubt this is emotional on all sides — for parents like myself, it’s understandably emotional.”

“The large-capacity magazine ban is going to stimulate a lot of opposition; that’s going to hit a lot of ordinary gun owners where it hurts” — including some who might be open-minded to other kinds of gun control, said Adam Winkler, a UCLA law professor and author of 2011’s Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America.

He added, “It plays into the hands of gun-rights proponents who are always warning that the government is going to come take your guns.”

The concern by some analysts is that Gavin Newsom’s initiative will incite the right and cause conservatives in California to turn out in much higher than usual numbers.

Mr. Winkler stated, “Single-issue, pro-gun voters don’t usually have a great need to turn out for the presidential election — they know which way California is going to go… (But this measure) could stimulate more turnout among people who otherwise might skip this election altogether.”

For his part, Gavin Newsom acknowledged that risk stating that “if you believe in something and think it’s the right thing to do, I think you’ve got an obligation to do it.”

Unfortunately, he is making that decision for the rest of us. The numbers we analyzed, at least in regard to mass killing, suggest that laws such as these probably won’t even have an effect on mass killings. Many mass killers had no previous record anyway – so why would a background check be effective?

It seems to me that we are treating the wrong aspect of this problem.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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12 thoughts on “Sunday Commentary II: Newsom’s Fight Against Guns is Fraught with Risk”

  1. Barack Palin

    “It makes me sick: An average of 87 Americans are killed by gun violence each and every day – we can’t let more of our neighbors, teachers, students, sons and daughters lose their lives to gun violence.”

    ……and gang members.

     

    The numbers we analyzed at least in regards to mass killing suggest that laws such as these probably won’t even have an effect on mass killings. Many mass killers had no previous regard anyway – so why would a background check be effective.

    Thank you.  I was surprised to hear this out of you.  Does the possibility of a huge conservative voter turnout scare you that much?

     

      1. Barack Palin

        Must of missed that one.  Please post a link and I’ll read it.  I’d find it myself but for some reason when I try and use the search on your site it bogs down for several minutes.

  2. AJ Sikes

    I agree with your assertion (from your previous analysis) that attention and fame are prominent in most mass shooters’ minds. Sadly we can never know for the majority of them because they did engage in a final act. But we have Dylan Roof in custody, and, to my knowledge, we also have the cousin of the Roseburg, OR shooter behind bars, or on watch of some sort, after he made public vows to continue his cousin’s rampage (I heard this from a gas station attendant in Roseburg – my family stopped there on a road trip the weekend of Oct 3rd-4th).

    Looking back at the mass shootings that stand out in memory, I see a collection of young, white, primarily suburban males, who for one reason or another feel they are disenfranchised in some way, usually from social institutions that carry markers of success and achievement (dating/romance standing out as chief among them). With the Roseburg shooter’s posts on 4chan the day before he engaged in his act of terror, it’s clear to me that he, at least, craved attention and a sense of power, and was prepared to go to any length to achieve those ends.

    The major media outlets thrive on spectacle, so I don’t think we’ll see an end to reporting on mass shootings (interesting that we so rarely see news about the hundreds of shootings that take place daily around the country – not enough “mass” interest to generate page views and get eyeballs in front of TV sets). But here’s a thought: Why don’t we try the convicted mass shooters we have in custody, and anyone convicted after making public threats to conduct a mass shooting, as domestic terrorists?
    According to 18 U.S.C. § 2331, for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism”:
    “Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
     

    Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
    Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
    Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S

    Dylan Roof’s murder of 9 parishioners clearly matches up with all 3 criteria, and the same could be said about the Roseburg shooter’s act.

    If the major media are going to give these guys the attention they so desperately crave, the least we can do as a nation is ensure there’s a severe penalty awaiting anyone who considers pulling a copycat crime in the future. In the case of mass shootings, an ounce of deterrent may result in lives saved.

    I’m not usually one to advocate for so severe a penalty (domestic terrorists are, to my knowledge, eligible for the death penalty), but until we can figure out a way to alleviate and, ultimately, eliminate feelings of separation and disenfranchisement from America’s youth, I’m not seeing a route to solving the mass shooting problem we’re faced with.

     

     

     

     

  3. Eric Gelber

    Political considerations aside, Newsom’s proposed initiative is problematic for a number of reasons. The initiative process is an ineffective means for addressing complex issues. For all its flaws, at least the legislative process allows for public input and opportunities to address issues and concerns with proposed law. Rarely does a bill on an issue of any complexity go through the process without multiple amendments, which, while not always beneficial, often do result in changes and compromises that improve the final product. The evolution of the recent end-of-life bills is one example. While not satisfying the major opposition, it’s hard to argue that the final bill did not address many concerns and improve safeguards as compared to the original bill, as introduced. Similarly, major compromises had to be made in enacting the Affordable Care Act, but the final result was increased access to health care for millions.

    It is inevitable that  a bill or initiative attempting to comprehensively address an issue like gun regulation will have provisions that are problematic to some voters, and which provisions are objectionable will vary from voter to voter. Cumulatively, this is  likely to doom the entire effort. A more narrowly focused and piecemeal approach to gun regulation is more likely to achieve results. This approach hasn’t always been successful in legislatures because of the disproportionate influence of the gun lobby.

    Finally —

    The numbers we analyzed, at least in regard to mass killing, suggest that laws such as these probably won’t even have an effect on mass killings. Many mass killers had no previous record anyway – so why would a background check be effective?

    This argument is flawed. No single step will address the entirety of the problem. The question should be: Will expanded background checks keep guns out of the hands of some individuals who should not have access—possibly including some future mass killer—thereby saving lives?

  4. Tia Will

    Eric

    No single step will address the entirety of the problem. The question should be: Will expanded background checks keep guns out of the hands of some individuals who should not have access—possibly including some future mass killer—thereby saving lives?”

    I agree that the emphasis should be on steps that will keep guns out of the hands of those who should not have access. For me this would include anyone of diminished capacity for any reason be it children, adults without training in basic gun skills and safety ( or those commensurate with the weapons and ammunition that they are purchasing), those who are under the influence of drugs ( whether recreational or prescribed) and anyone involved in gang or other criminal activity. My priority is not “gun control” it is improved gun safety. This should be a common goal amongst law abiding gun owners and those of us who choose not to have guns in our homes. Is preventing gun injury and death really such a controversial issue ?

  5. Napoleon Pig IV

    I wouldn’t vote for Newsome no matter what he proposes on any topic – even though I vote for Democrats more often than I vote for Republicans. His ideas on gun control are idiotic, but it’s good to see untrustworthy lowlifes like Newsome supporting these nonsensical ideas.

     

  6. Tia Will

    Napoleon

    I wouldn’t vote for Newsome no matter what he proposes on any topic”

    I understand finding an individual so undesirable that I would not vote for them regardless of what they might propose on any give topic since I feel that way about Trump. However, the bigger issue for me is, would you support a good idea if it also happened to be supported by Newsome ?

    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      Tia

      I agree with you about Trump. I wouldn’t vote for him for anything except maybe buffoon of the moment.

      I would support a good idea if it also happened to be supported by Newsome – or even by Trump. I don’t think Newsome’s idea in this case is a good or useful one, but I do try to separate the value of ideas from the quality of the individuals who support or oppose them.

  7. Davis Progressive

    this is just the wrong approach to gun control.  i would prefer folks in the middle to lay out some objectives for sensible gun control that can reduce violence while preserving the rights of those who are law abiding (and i don’t agree with those who believe that inconveniences are an infringement of rights).

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