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California takes up call to toughen gun storage


Following White House lead

By Samantha Young | California Healthline

California lawmakers are weighing a pitch from the White House for states to toughen gun storage rules as legislation languishes in Congress.

Even though many states, including California, have laws in place for safely storing guns when children are present, the Biden administration wants them to go further by requiring gun owners to secure firearms most of the time.

California’s Senate passed a sweeping bill in January that would adopt the White House recommendation. State Sen. Anthony Portantino (25th District), the author of SB 53, said the idea is to make it harder for anybody, not just children, to find and use a gun to commit crime or kill or accidentally harm themselves. Portantino spoke about his bill for a White House event in January.

But critics argue the proposal would violate the constitutional right to bear arms by making firearms difficult to access in potentially life-threatening situations, such as home break-ins. The measure is likely to face legal challenges should it clear the remaining legislative hurdles.

“This is a recognition that guns kill people, and the readily available unlocked guns kill more people,” said Portantino, who represents Burbank and surrounding areas. “The best way to make it safer for our children to go to school, and for people in households where there’s trauma, is to make sure the weapons don’t fall into the wrong hands. And the way to do that is to lock them up.”

In 2021, about 30 million American children lived in homes with firearms, including 4.6 million in households with loaded and unlocked firearms, according to a national firearms survey.

The Department of Justice in December unveiled model gun storage legislation for states to consider. “It’s a simple step that can save lives,” said Stefanie Feldman, director of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

“The states have always been referred to as the laboratories of democracy,” Spitzer said. “It’s a place where laws are often enacted when you can’t get things done at the national level.”

California’s existing gun storage law requires guns, whether they’re loaded or unloaded, be secured using a method such as a gun safe or trigger lock in places where they could get into the hands of a minor, a felon, or anyone prohibited from possessing a firearm. Portantino, who introduced the existing law in 2019, is also a candidate in a hotly contested congressional race for the 30th District.

The bill moving through the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature would extend gun storage rules to all residences, a mandate similar to the Biden administration’s proposal, and require owners to secure firearms in a lockbox or safe. The White House proposal gives gun owners the option of using a trigger lock — a lock that fits over a gun’s trigger mechanism that prevents the gun from being fired — instead of a lockbox or safe.

But keeping a gun in a locked box or making it unusable with a trigger lock, which requires a key or combination, could be problematic, critics say. In communities struggling with violent crime, a disabled gun would be useless for self-defense, said California state Sen. Kelly Seyarto, a Republican from Murrieta.

“You don’t have time when somebody breaks into your house to fiddle with the lock and the storage and get your gun out,” Seyarto said on the Senate floor. “Because by then you will be dead.”

Seyarto and the National Rifle Association say the California bill is excessive and that, because gun owners might be unable to defend themselves, it would infringe on Second Amendment rights.

“This bill’s one-size-fits-all approach fails to consider individual circumstances and imposes undue burdens,” said Daniel Reid, managing director of state and local affairs for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action. “We support empowering individuals to make responsible choices, rather than eroding their freedoms with typical California-style gun control,” said Daniel Reid, managing director of state and local affairs for the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.

Firearms were the leading cause of death for children ages 1-17 in 2020, 2021, and 2022, according to analyses of CDC data by KFF. In 2022, an average of seven children a day died from getting shot.

The number of children “lost to gun violence, to shooting, is unfathomable,” said first lady Jill Biden at a White House event in January. She called on school principals to communicate with parents about safe gun storage. The Department of Education also crafted a letter schools can send to parents explaining that safely storing firearms “can help prevent them from getting into the hands of children and teens, who may use them to, intentionally or unintentionally, harm themselves or others.”

California Healthline is operated by the Kaiser Family Foundation.