Not on their watch

North state sheriffs oppose gun and ammo control initiative

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says Proposition 63 unduly burdens responsible, legal gun owners.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says Proposition 63 unduly burdens responsible, legal gun owners.

CN&R file photo

Proposition 63—a set of gun and ammunition control measures advanced by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom—has been dubbed the “Safety for All Act of 2016” by its proponents. But Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea and other North State sheriffs say the initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot could have an opposite effect on public safety.

“My chief concern is it will not achieve the stated goal of reducing violence and saving lives,” Honea said. “I think instead what it will do is negatively impact thousands and thousands of law-abiding citizens.”

Honea and Sheriffs Tom Bosenko (Shasta County) and Mike Poindexter (Modoc County) participated in a telephone press conference Monday (Aug. 29) to express their disapproval for the initiative.

Prop. 63 aims to affect wide-ranging changes to ammunition sales and law enforcement policies regarding the possession of firearms. These include background checks and Department of Justice authorization to buy ammo; that most ammunition sales be done through DOJ-licensed vendors who will be authorized to report sales; prohibition on the possession of high-capacity ammunition magazines; that lost or stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement; prohibiting a person convicted of stealing firearms from possessing them; establishing new procedures to strip felons of firearms at the time of conviction; and requiring the DOJ to provide information about people prohibited to own firearms to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

The California State Sheriffs’ Association and several other law enforcement groups oppose the initiative, but the Prop. 63 camp names a dozen law enforcement officials who support the law. One is Marin County District Attorney Edward Berberian, who said arguments that the initiative won’t reduce violence and criminalize legal behavior oversimplify a complicated issue.

“In no way do I support infringing on people’s Constitutional rights, but we do need some reasonable restrictions when it comes to firearms,” Berberian said during a phone conversation. “We have way more guns on the street than anyone could reasonably need. Lt. Gov. Newsom’s attempts to address that problem [with Prop. 63] are viable and reasonable.”

“There will always be certain people who follow the [National Rifle Association’s] lead and automatically oppose all common-sense reforms to reduce gun violence,” said Dan Newman, spokesman for the Safety for All initiative, in an email. “But most Californians, including many in law enforcement, support Newsom’s initiative to keep guns and ammo from dangerous people. In fact, key provisions in the initiative to ensure people who steal guns cannot own them, and that lost and stolen guns are reported to law enforcement, were drafted at the specific request of law enforcement leaders.”

Honea said he believes enforcing Prop. 63 would divert resources from already overburdened law enforcement organizations by criminalizing things that are currently legal. He used the prohibition of high-capacity magazines as an example. Currently, the sale of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds is illegal in the state, but it’s legal to possess them if you owned one prior to Jan. 1, 2000.

“Certainly, it’s possible that criminals have imported high-capacity magazines, but if they’re willing to do that under existing laws, they’re willing to do it under any law we pass,” Honea said. “I don’t see a problem with law-abiding citizens who are in possession of high-capacity magazines that were lawfully acquired and lawfully possessed.”

Bosenko said overseeing bullet sales likewise burdens law enforcement with additional responsibilities—“It’s basically being the ammunition police,” he said—and noted the initiative calls for more law enforcement attention but doesn’t provide funding.

Honea said he’d rather see resources directed to the underlying causes of violence, such as addressing the needs of people suffering from mental illness who have the potential to harm others. Unlike Bosenko and Poindexter, he stopped short of labeling the law an infringement on Second Amendment rights: “I think it’s a bad initiative, but in my view there’s a clear separation of [judicial and law enforcement] responsibilities and it’s not my place to determine that,” he said.