May 1, 2016

Gun DoctorWorking to reduce gun violence is a key priority for SF Bay Area PSR. This year, we’re especially busy advocating for gun control legislation. Our state representatives have introduced twenty pieces of gun legislation, an unusually high number of bills on this issue. But there’s good reason for them to do so.    

Too many people are dying from gun violence, and gun laws work. Almost 3,000 Californians die every year by gun violence aimed at others or through suicide. It’s estimated that as many as twice that number suffer non-fatal injuries by firearms.[i]  Members in San Francisco Bay Area PSR and in PSR nationwide work in hospital emergency rooms and treat all too many of these victims of senseless and gross acts of violence, and we know this needs to end. Studies show that states with the toughest gun control laws have the lowest gun-related homicide and suicide rates. [ii]

When asked why there are more gun bills this year than usual, Amanda Wilcox, Legislation & Policy Chair, California Chapters, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence cited two reasons: the 2015 shootings in San Bernardino, and the Safety for All Initiative slated for the November 2016 ballot. “Legislators always have heightened interest in carrying a gun bill after a high profile, horrific shooting – that is why so many assault weapon bills were introduced. And the new initiative process allows the proponent of an initiative to withdraw the measure before a certain date in June.  The idea is to give the legislature time to act on the policy instead.”

And acting they are. Bay Area Assemblymember David Chiu has introduced AB 1663 which strengthens and simplifies the existing Assault Weapons Ban by including in the ban semiautomatic centerfire rifles that do not have a fixed magazine even if the magazine contains 10 rounds or less.  “Recent events like the San Bernardino shooting are clear indicators that our laws need to change. Families and communities are being destroyed by gun violence and we must do everything we can to prevent future tragedies.  Our health care professionals are in the trenches cleaning up the carnage,” said Chiu who represents the 17th Assembly District comprising the eastern area of San Francisco (read more here).

The Safety for All Initiative is a package of commonsense gun reforms led by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.  The initiative requires instant background checks for ammunition purchases, strengthens background checks for guns, prohibits possession of large detachable military-style magazines, and requires immediate surrendering of guns for people convicted of serious and violent crimes.[iii]  The proponents of the initiative could withdraw it if they believe that the legislature and governor have done a sufficient job in addressing the issues raised there.

Mass shootings are made possible due to the availability of military style weapons. In the shootings in December 2015 in San Bernardino, a husband-and-wife team of assailants killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in just a matter of minutes. The shooters’ weapons included legally purchased AR-15 rifles that were outfitted with high-capacity magazines and a “bullet button.” A gun with a bullet button was also used in the 2013 shooting at Los Angeles International Airport that left a TSA agent dead. [iv]

Bullet button-equipped assault weapons are functionally the same as illegal assault weapons, but are legal under California law due to a loophole that allows the possession of assault weapons that require a tool to eject and reload the ammunition magazine.

Large capacity magazines allow for a shooter to rapidly fire without reloading. A large capacity magazine is defined as a magazine that holds over 10 rounds. Some large capacity magazines can even hold over 100 rounds of ammunition. These magazines are military designed devices created only to allow a shooter to fire a large number of bullets in a short period of time. Currently, California prohibits the importation, manufacture and sale of large capacity ammunition magazines. However, possession of such a magazine is not prohibited.

Bay Area legislators are leading on other important gun control bills. In addition to AB 1663, San Francisco Bay Area PSR actively supports   AB 1664 and SB 1146 also aimed at greatly reducing the risk of mass shootings such as occurred in San Bernardino.

AB 1664 redefines detachable magazines to include those that have a magazine with a “bullet button” and can only be removed with the use of a tool.  Assault weapons with a “bullet button” have been legal through a giant loophole in the current Assault Weapons Ban.  AB 1664, authored by Assemblymembers Phil Ting (19th Dist.), representing the western area of San Francisco and Daly City, and Marc Levine (10th Dist.), representing the North Bay as far north as Sebastopol, would close that loophole.  A similar bill is making its way through the Senate.”

SB 1446, authored by Senator Loni Hancock (9th Dist.) representing an area stretching from San Leandro, through Oakland, north to Richmond and Pinole, would prohibit the possession of large capacity magazines.

Military-style guns and magazines do not belong on California’s streets.  Banning these weapons whose sole purpose is to kill many and kill rapidly will help reduce the carnage and increase public safety throughout California.

[i] CDC reports that, nationwide, twice as many people suffer non-fatal injuries as die from gun violence. Centers for Disease Control, National Vital Statistics Report, Vol. 61, Number 4, Deaths: Final Data for 2010, May 8, 2013. vitalhttp://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04.pdf

[ii] Eric W. Fleegler, MD, MPH; Lois K. Lee, MD, MPH; Michael C. Monuteaux, ScD; David Hemenway, PhD; Rebekah Mannix, MD, MPH,  Firearm Legislation and Firearm-Related Fatalities in the United States  (May 13, 2013).http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=1661390

[iii] For more information, see http://safetyforall.com/.

[iv] Time on line, December 4, 2015, http://time.com/4136757/san-bernardino-shooting-gun-law-bullet-button/