California’s gun ballot initiative, Proposition 63, passed last night with 63 percent of the vote. Although this fact was largely lost in the election noise, the most noteworthy and controversial aspects of the sweeping gun prop are already etched into law. In July, Gov. Jerry Brown signed off on legislation that, like Prop 63, outlawed the possession of magazines that carry more than 10 bullets, required background checks for buying ammunition, and banned the sale of certain types of semiautomatic assault rifles.
While Prop 63 irks Second Amendment activists, its passage isn’t exactly surprising. That may explain why, in the lead up to Election Day, the gun lobby’s opposition to the ballot measure was somewhat muted. “It’s been this way since Brown signed the bills. If there was anything groundbreaking, anything revolutionary here, that’s when it happened. Prop 63, with the exception of a few things, is redundant,” says Chuck Michel, the President of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, the National Rifle Association’s official California affiliate.
There are some differences between the proposition and the existing law. Prop 63 requires owners to report lost or stolen guns. It also creates a system for confiscating guns from felons who are prohibited from owning them. It also elevates all gun thefts to felonies.
“None of that was worth spending $5 million to oppose, because that stuff is minor compared to the ammo background check and the ban on the possession of high capacity magazines, conceptually,” says Michel. “There were a number of different players were ready to put money into this fight, but when those laws passed, nobody was going to spend that much money on this fight when we have a presidential race that’s going to influence the Supreme Court.”
Instead, the NRA and its affiliates focused on trying to elect Donald Trump, who they believed would appoint Supreme Court justices friendly to their interpretation of gun rights. But that doesn’t mean the fight over Proposition 63 and the laws passed in July is over. The California Rifle & Pistol Association, for its part, intends to take legal action. “There are different parts of it that are vulnerable on different theories. [Prop 63] is a collection of separate laws, and each one would be challenged separately, and on different grounds,” says Michel. Asked when that might happen, he replies, “Soon. We’re not going to wait until they can go into effect.”
The passage of Proposition 63 marks the end of a fight between Democrats Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Senate leader Kevin De León that began in late 2015. Newsom, who backed Prop 63, has his eye on the governor’s seat in 2018, and wants to be seen as an effective opponent of the gun lobby. And De León, who was behind the gun legislation passed earlier this year, is said to be close to others aiming for the Governor’s Mansion and doesn’t want to see the ballot initiative help Newsom.
The spat over who gets the credit for tightening California’s gun laws spawned a white-collar war of words earlier in the year. In a letter to Newsom, De León complained that a ballot initiative is “a blunt instrument” that would “deny California the flexibility to implement a more thoughtful and cost-effective approach.” Newsom, writing before De León’s bills were signed into law, shot back, “Your suggestion that there is ‘a good chance’ of the Legislature approving some related proposals is far from a guarantee for the state’s gun violence victims…The Legislature has shown mixed results in passing legislation to address gun violence.”
Passing Prop 63 appears to be a slam dunk for supporters of tougher gun laws, but Michel believes that Newsom and De León’s competiting accomplishments may backfire. “I want to thank Gavin Newsom and Kevin De León, because what they have done is really stuck their finger in the eye of gun owners to the point where gun owners have now have now woken up and will engage to a degree that they haven’t before,” he says. “The PAC that we created to deal with Prop 63 will survive Prop 63. The coalition of civil rights and civil liberties groups and gun owner groups that have come together to fight 63 will stay together to fight the next battle. Gavin Newsom, I think, has created a monster.”