Opponents fight California gun measure, count on Trump

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California voters’ approval of even tougher gun restrictions leaves opponents trying to contain the damage within the most populous state and across the country, an effort buoyed by Donald Trump’s election.

Proposition 63 bans possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines, requires permits to buy ammunition and forces owners to give up their weapons as soon as they can no longer legally possess them. It also increases penalties for stealing a gun and for not reporting the loss or theft of a firearm.

The initiative passed with 63 percent support Tuesday, making it more likely that similar measures will be considered elsewhere, analysts said.

“It’s not like some tiny little state is doing this. If it’s feasible in California, it’s possible in most states,” Harvard University professor David Hemenway said.

Opponents will keep fighting restrictions with lawsuits and a public relations campaign, and by challenging politicians who favor gun control, said Sean Brady, an attorney and spokesman for the Coalition for Civil Liberties, which opposed the measure.

Moreover, the election of Republican Trump and his ability to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices who oppose gun control makes such restrictions “far more vulnerable to challenge,” he said.

His legal partner, Chuck Michel, who is president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association and a National Rifle Association spokesman, said opponents intend to push their constitutional challenges to the nation’s high court, taking on California’s ballot initiative and seven gun control bills signed into law by Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown in July.

“We expect to make great strides in enacting a pro-Second Amendment agenda,” including a federal law requiring states to honor concealed-carry permits when a gun owner carries a firearm across state lines, NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said in an email.

Many voters don’t recognize the value of firearms for self-defense, hunting and target shooting, Brady said. For instance, Smith & Wesson announced plans this week to change its name to American Outdoor Brands Corp. to reflect its focus on marketing to shooting, hunting, and “rugged outdoor” enthusiasts.

Brady argued many voters instead are driven by fears of mass shootings stirred by politicians like Proposition 63’s chief proponent, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is running for governor in 2018.

“Unfortunately, politicians like Gavin Newsom have emotion on their side, which is, frankly, a powerful tool,” Brady said. “There is a concerted effort by the gun-ban lobby and certain politicians to push gun laws by the vote of the people.”

Newsom said passage in California “is a repudiation of the National Rifle Association at scale, and I think that’s going to resonate across the country.”

Although the NRA contributed $95,000 to the opposition, its efforts this year were concentrated mostly on backing Trump. California-based gun owners’ organizations and law enforcement groups also opposed the measure but spent about one-sixth as much as supporters.

It’s still a loss for the NRA because passage in California makes it more likely the association will have to fight similar battles in other states, said analysts including Hemenway, who has written on gun violence and directs the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

Elsewhere, Tuesday’s election brought mixed results on firearms.

Nevada passed expanded gun buyer background checks, while Maine rejected them. Washington state approved allowing judges to order the temporary seizure of guns from people who are deemed a threat, similar to a gun-violence restraining order law that took effect in California this year. And voters in Indiana and Kansas approved measures protecting residents’ rights to hunt and fish.

Significant restrictions have mostly been limited to the Northeast and along the West Coast, said Frank Zimring, director of the criminal justice research program at the University of California, Berkeley.

Gun ownership in states like California, Connecticut, Massachusetts and New York is already so heavily regulated that when proponents seek to further restrict ownership, they often are limited to making marginal changes like those included in Proposition 63, he said.

Stanford Law School professor John Donohue, a gun policy expert, said California’s changes are more likely to resonate elsewhere if statistics show they actually deter violence.

“If California keeps reducing gun deaths at the rate is has been,” he said, “then the states are going to sit up and take notice.”

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