Boxes of ammunition are stacked on the shelves of Coyote Point Armory, a gun store in Burlingame. Owner John Parkin has been in business here for two years. On a Friday afternoon, a steady stream of customers comes in to look at handguns under the glass counters.
“We’re a basic gun store,” says Parkin. “We sell lots of ammo. We sell long rifles, shotguns, handguns, revolvers, everything in between.”
Hanging from the walls of the store are lots of guns, including one of the country's most contentious models, the AR-15. According to Parkin, bullets for the AR-15 run at about $10 for a box of 20. But if Proposition 63 passes this November, gun owners would also have to pay up to $50 for a 4-year Department of Justice permit. Parkin says this is an unfair burden on honest gun-owners like himself.
“It would be a huge inconvenience,” he says. “And it’s not going to do anything to keep anyone any safer because you can buy ammo anywhere in the country anyway. People are just gonna go out of state. They’re gonna hoard ammo. They’re gonna bring it in whether it’s legal or not.”
Parkin already has to ID anyone trying to buy a gun and submit that information to California’s Department of Justice for a background check. But in an era when guns can be 3D printed at home, gun control supporters say that this doesn’t take into account what some consider the deadliest part of the gun -- the ammo.
“Currently in California, you can have unlimited quantities of this lethal product delivered to your door with no background check, no questions asked,” says Ari Freilich, Staff Attorney at San Francisco’s Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The Law Center was founded in the aftermath of a mass shooting in 1993, at a law firm in downtown San Francisco that killed eight people. The legacy of that incident led California to enact some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. And President Clinton signed key federal gun control laws in the months after the shooting.
But Freilich believes more could be done. That’s why the Law Center worked closely with Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s team to draft Prop 63.
“For all our progress, California still has major loopholes in our laws,” Freilich says.
For example, California currently requires anyone convicted of serious crimes to get rid of their guns. But there’s no clear way to do this for the 12,691 people in California’s Armed and Prohibited Persons Systems database. Prop 63 spells out how the state will recover those firearms.
“This law would have teeth,” Freilich says. “It would require this convicted offender to provide a receipt to the court before final sentencing in their case, showing they got rid of their illegal guns.”
Seven other gun control laws Governor Brown signed into law earlier this summer cover similar territory to Prop 63, but the ballot initiative goes further. Background checks for ammunition purchases will start in the state, whether or not Prop 63 passes. But the initiative would ban additional people, including those with concealed weapons permits.
Prop 63 also stipulates stiffer penalties for firearm theft, requirements that dealers and individuals report stolen guns or ammunition within a few days, and license requirements and background checks for ammunition dealers.
Gun rights advocates portray Prop 63’s package of laws as a danger to law-abiding citizens. One group fighting against the initiative calls itself Veto Gunmageddon. This all-volunteer organization is launching an anti-Prop 63 campaign at the end of September. Veto Gunmageddon spokesperson Shawn Brandon describes himself as a rare Democrat in conservative Kern County.
“I’m not hoarding ammo and living in a bunker with a tin hat,” he says. “I’m a regular person. I got two kids. I’m a family guy. I spend time with my family. You know, I’m just a regular person.”
Brandon says he’s a history buff, which makes sense because he deals in collectible guns. He has dozens of firearms, from different places and different eras.
“Just because you have a lot of guns doesn’t mean that you’re some gun nut waiting for the end of the world,” Brandon says. “I’m not waiting for the end of the world.”
Brandon doesn’t think Prop 63 will keep Californians safer. He thinks it’s unfair to law-abiding gun owners like himself. His two sons, aged 9 and 12, both know how to shoot a .22 rifle. He’s concerned about what will happen if background checks for ammunition sales go through.
“If you want to take your son out to go target shooting, and you go down to your local Walmart, you have to go through a full background check just to buy a box of .22 shells to go target shooting,” he says.
Veto Gunmageddon is gathering petitions to force a referendum on the seven gun laws passed in the wake of last year’s San Bernardino shootings. And the group is also is pushing back against what its members see as political jockeying in the California State Legislature. Brandon sees the ballot initiative as a strategic ploy by Newsom to launch his gubernatorial campaign.
But regardless of why the proposition is on the ballot, the question remains: will laws like these work to reduce gun violence in California’s communities?
As the debate around gun control rages, it’s hard to make sense of the data. The numbers on gun control and firearm deaths are tricky to interpret and can be skewed by factors other than gun laws. Research in 2011 from the Atlantic did find lower firearm deaths in states with stricter gun laws, like banning assault weapons. Yet Factcheck.org found in 2012 that firearm murders are down even as gun ownership is up.
When it comes to ammunition, some cities have already been taking action. Both San Francisco and Oakland have passed ordinances requiring records of ammunition sales. Starting July 2019, under current state law, California will follow suit. Recent polls show that a majority of voters support Prop 63, with Election Day less than 7 weeks away.
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