Gun groups try to make hay of city repeal

Taking local government out of the gun control business hasn’t done anything to quiet the rhetoric on both sides of this hotly debated issue, as demonstrated recently in press releases coming out of the California Rifle & Pistol Association (CRPA).

Specifically, the CRPA, together with the National Rifle Association, is taking the recent repeal of a Sacramento City ordinance banning so-called “Saturday night specials,” a.k.a. “junk guns,” as proof that such ordinances are unconstitutional.

State officials, meanwhile, counter that the local ordinance was rendered unnecessary Jan. 1, thanks to a new state law now in effect targeting junk guns—the cheap handguns of inferior quality that are found all too often at crime scenes, according to the state Department of Justice.

“The key point is that for many years, there was not a successful attempt in the Legislature to pass a ban against these guns,” said Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. “So local government really pushed the issue by passing their own ordinances and that put pressure on the Legislature and governor to pass a statewide ban.”

Steinberg, who authored Sacramento’s ordinance while a city councilman in 1997, noted that the city successfully defended itself against an NRA lawsuit on the constitutionality of the ban in 1998.

But spokesmen for the CRPA assert that the city was forced into the repeal by inept technical writing that, when interpreted literally, would actually ban certain police department issued weapons. That claim was characterized as “pure spin” by city and state officials.

The fact that Sacramento Police Chief Arturo Venegas Jr. supported the city’s former ban seems an adequate rebuttal to the CRPA’s claim, according to department spokesman Lt. Sam Somers. Additionally, Somers refuted the CRPA’s assertion that department officers use Glocks.

The CRPA, however, maintained that the city repealed its ordinance to save itself embarrassment.

“I think what really happened is the city realized it would be easier to repeal that and let the state law take over than try to clean up the mess they had,” said Jeff Wynton, whose law firm, Trutanich Michel, LLP., represents the CRPA.

State law now requires all handguns sold in California to go through state-approved laboratory safety testing before being placed on a list of guns approved for sale. Manufacturers who want their guns on the list will pay about $300 per model, per year, in addition to costs for testing. So far, 224 models of handguns have passed the tests, which determine such things as whether a gun won’t misfire when dropped. The state standards mirror those used by the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to determine gun safety.

But even Wynton concedes that while the state law is a change, it doesn’t entirely signal a victory for gun groups.

“There’s many retailers who will be stuck with used guns that aren’t on the list and then you can’t do anything except sell out-of-state,” he said.