Do Sacramento's strict gun laws actually work? Or are firearm users simply leaving the city to buy guns—then bringing them back in?
Sacramento has some of California’s toughest gun laws in a state already stingy when it comes to firearms.
Gun-control proponents say the city’s regulations help reduce violent crime and illegal firearms. Gun advocates, not surprisingly, think the rules suck. Either way, these laws may soon get even tougher.
Earlier this week, the city’s Law and Legislation Committee, which recommends new ordinances to city council, met to brainstorm ways to crack down on gun violence. The committee discussed several proposals, including strict regulations for new gun shops and bans against owning certain kinds of high-powered ammunition.
If Sacramento doesn’t pass new gun-control measures, state lawmakers may do so anyway. California’s Legislature currently has several bills pending that would, among other things, slap a tax on ammunition and prohibit gun sales to anyone under 21.
Sacramento already has landmark restrictions on firearms. Gun dealers must electronically submit customer fingerprints and personal information to the police department. And city residents must report all lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours or risk facing a misdemeanor.
According to Councilman Kevin McCarty, who introduced those laws in 2007, the city’s tough stance on firearms has paid off. The ammunition ordinance has helped officers from the Sacramento Police Department seize 230 guns from people who shouldn’t have them—including convicted felons with violent records, gang members and sex offenders.
“It was all because our ammunition law gave the police the tools to go do these investigations,” he said.
Last year, McCarty also proposed rules that would require firearm dealers to buy liability insurance and obtain a special permit to operate within the city limits. He believes the city currently doesn’t have enough control over gun shops. The council’s Law and Legislation Committee may vote on the proposal later this year.
“You could literally open a gun shop next door to a school, church or day-care facility, and there’s nothing in the city’s books to prohibit it,” said McCarty.
Gun-control advocates give a thumbs-up to the city’s strict rules, which they believe has contributed to lower crime rates. Sacramento had 36 homicides last year, down from 57 in 2006. Thirty of those 36 murder victims from 2012 were killed using a firearm. Compared with places like Fresno or Stockton—cities about the same size as the capital but with higher homicide rates—Sac has fewer incidents of deadly gun violence.
Amanda Wilcox, a leader with the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, thinks the city’s ammunition law has been a huge factor in reducing gun-related crime.
“It was the best program in the state,” she said. “The data on that was pretty incredible, on how they were able to identify people illegally armed.”
Local opponents of gun control see things differently.
Sam Paredes, executive director for Gun Owners of California, thinks the city’s firearm and ammunition rules are “onerous for law-abiding citizens.” He also doubts whether those laws are effective.
“My understanding, from knowing a lot of people, is that they simply go outside of the city jurisdiction to buy their ammunition, because they don’t want to be registered by the government for anything,” said Paredes.
In fact, cops have seized fewer guns recently from enforcing the city ammunition ordinance. Based on his conversations with the police department, McCarty believes more criminals are avoiding Sac’s gun shops to head for cities with looser rules on buying ammo. “That, I think, trumpets the need to have other jurisdictions adopt the law or have a statewide law,” he said.
Paredes is much happier with Sacramento County’s gun policy, especially the amount of concealed-weapons permits issued by the sheriff’s department. According to Deputy Jason Ramos, the department approved between 90 to 95 percent of permit applications for concealed firearms last year.
“They tend to be a leader in freedom,” said Paredes. “You have a sheriff who has given out more concealed-weapon permits than any sheriff probably in the history of Sacramento, back until the Western days.”
Even if Sac’s tough laws are working, cops still struggle to reduce gun violence in the region. According to Officer Doug Morse, a police spokesman, cops seized 875 guns from criminals in Sacramento last year—but there’s no way to actually count how many illegal firearms exchange hands on city streets. And, apparently, Sacramento’s streets have plenty.
Graham Barlowe, local agent in charge for the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said his office works with the police and sheriff’s departments to crack down on illicit firearms in the region through a program called Project Safe Neighborhoods. The task force has conducted sting operations to stop illegal gun purchases, and the results are sobering.
“We have been very successful at purchasing firearms [in Sacramento],” said Barlowe. “I think that is in large part due to the abundance of firearms floating around out there.”