Sacramento tougher on booze and marijuana than firearms—but this likely will change soon

Some argue that Sacramento puts more regulation on medical-marijuana and alcohol establishments than it does on gun shops.

Some argue that Sacramento puts more regulation on medical-marijuana and alcohol establishments than it does on gun shops.

illustration by hayley doshay and priscilla garcia

Guns don’t kill people; a surprising lack of regulation does.

Sacramento often gets called a regional leader when it comes to gun regulations, but the businesses selling these Second Amendment boom sticks face fewer local controls than ones trafficking in booze and medical cannabis.

Right now, the Sacramento Police Department has greater “leverage” to condition the operation of liquor stores than gun dealers, said Officer Doug Morse, a spokesman for the department.

Across Sacramento County, the logic goes that liquor stores and medical-marijuana dispensaries are more likely to attract crime and must be regulated accordingly. That rationale has consistently stopped at guns, which don’t face the same zoning restrictions or security requirements. Gun dealers aren’t required to inventory their wares, and they aren’t subjected to undercover purchases like businesses slinging alcohol or cigarettes.

Some of this may be changing.

Thanks to a soul-buckling accumulation of mass-shooting tragedies—and the dreary continuation of gun-related crimes in the capital region—a common-sense tipping point may be at hand.

State lawmakers introduced more than two-dozen gun-related bills by Friday’s legislative deadline, though one of them, Assembly Bill 202, would create armed school marshals at each school. Call it the “Kindergarten Cop Law.”

Meanwhile, city officials are in the early stages of drafting stricter regulations for gun and ammo dealers, and expect to have a more formalized proposal to the city council by late spring, according to intergovernmental relations officer Randi Knott.

“It’s obviously a complicated issue,” she told SN&R.

The intersection of federal, state and local lawmaking powers contributes to the complications.

While the city has narrow room to legislate on this issue—the state’s pre-emption doctrine blocks local communities from passing laws dealing with the registering and licensing of firearms, as well as restrictions on the possession of handguns, among other things—it can weigh in on the regulation of gun dealers.

“The city has the ultimate decision over land use,” Knott explained. “That’s its greatest tool in terms of how our city operates.”

Senior deputy city attorney Steven Itagaki laid out a sampler’s menu of these potential new regulations last week to the city’s Law & Legislation Committee, which is taking point on vetting proposals before passing any through to the city council.

To help identify and track stolen firearms, Itagaki said the city could require dealers to periodically inventory their munitions and report back “for review.” The city could also add security measures beyond what’s required in the California Penal Code, which mostly relies on barred windows, steel doors and deadbolt locks to keep out the bad guys. For instance, Itagaki said the city could add “measures such as alarms or security cameras to make it more difficult for firearms to be stolen from their premises.”

Requiring gun shops to obtain liability insurance, prohibit minors from entering their premises and abide by zoning restrictions would put firearms dealers on the same regulatory tier as the city’s liquor stores.

And outlawing the possession and sale of large-capacity magazines and 50-caliber ammo would close loopholes that are currently flapping in the breeze. Fifty-caliber rifles are already illegal, for one, so why is it permitted to sell ammo for them? And while it’s illegal to sell large-capacity magazines, it’s somehow still OK to possess them.

Other ideas that aren’t yet ready for prime time include requiring gun purchasers to clear mental-health exams and imposing a special ammo tax.

A local gun-store employee, who wasn’t authorized by his company to speak on the record, said the new regulations being discussed are either required in some way by the state Bureau of Firearms, which licenses gun dealers, or are already being done informally by most shops.

“You would have to be an idiot to operate without some sort of insurance,” he said, adding that the city has too few gun dealers for its new proposals to affect the desired change. There are currently nine businesses selling firearms in the city of Sacramento, including three sporting-goods chains.

With so many plates spinning on a statewide and national scale, Knott said the city may want to wait until a few of them crash to the ground before getting too deep in the weeds on this issue. But Councilman Jay Schenirer, who chairs the Law & Legislation Committee and suggested the city could use its purchasing power to leverage against uncooperative ammo sellers, made the case to press ahead.

“I’m pretty unwilling to wait for the state or federal government on this. You know, we have a crisis on our hands,” he said. “I think as the city we have to send some pretty strong messages about what we believe in. Enough is enough.”

As of February 24, two people suffered nonfatal gunshot wounds in the city this month. There were also multiple armed robberies and incidents in which police recovered firearms from juveniles. Four of those recoveries occurred at local schools. At Natomas Middle School in north Sacramento earlier this month, teachers discovered an unloaded handgun in the backpack of a 13-year-old. Police believe the weapon belonged to the youth’s parent.

It’s unclear whether the new proposals would prevent future instances like this, but they’d make it clear that the city of Sacramento finally considers guns to be as dangerous as massage parlors.