BY BEN CHRISTOPHER, CalMatters
Glock semi-automatic pistols for sale at a gun store in Oceanside on April 12, 2021. Photo by Bing Guan, Reuters
In a state known for its strict gun laws, a concealed carry bill failed in the final hours of the legislative session. Its supporters rolled the dice with a proposal that would take effect quickly, but that required two-thirds approval.
The California Legislature rarely passes up an opportunity to place new restrictions on firearms, or stick a finger in the eye of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority.
But in one of the final acts of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers declined to do either early Thursday when they opted not to pass a bill that would have rewritten state regulations on concealed carry licenses.
The bill, written by Attorney General Rob Bonta and introduced by Democratic Sen. Anthony Portantino of Glendale, was a direct response to a June high court ruling that struck down a New York state law requiring anyone applying for the right to legally carry around a concealed firearm in public, to demonstrate a “special need” first. California’s similar law, which required the showing of “good cause,” fell along with it.
But despite the very public support of Gov. Gavin Newsom, California’s rejoinder to the court stalled in the Assembly, unable to overcome the wariness of a handful of Democrats and the unified opposition of Republicans. That’s despite some persistent lobbying on the chamber floor by Bonta himself, an Assemblymember for nine years until his 2021 appointment by Newsom to lead the state’s Department of Justice.
According to the final tally, the bill failed by one vote.
“I am deeply disappointed that Californians’ right to live, work, and congregate safely remains at risk as a result of this initial outcome in our Legislature,” Bonta said in a statement. “But make no mistake: We intend to take any and all action necessary to ensure we get a bill that will correct the dangers presented to our communities as a result of” the court’s ruling.
Gun control advocates were also incensed. “A dangerous Supreme Court decision recently put California families and communities at risk, yet last night too many of our representatives disregarded that danger and neglected to take action,” Shannon Watts of the advocacy group Moms Demand Action said in a statement.
For an institution that has for years been reliably receptive to new restrictions on guns and the people who own, buy and sell them, it was a rare retreat. Earlier this year, in response to back-to-back mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, lawmakers passed and Newsom signed a bushel of new gun bills, adding to a thick body of law that already makes California gun restrictions the most numerous in the country.
But as if to illustrate some of the concerns held by the California bill’s opponents, a federal judge has already said that there is “a strong likelihood” that the New York law is unconstitutional.
Why this bill was not like the others
For disappointed supporters of the bill, there’s plenty of possible blame to go around.
Even by California standards, the proposal was ambitious in its scope, placing a raft of new requirements on concealed carry applicants and new restrictions on license holders. That earned the opposition of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, representing the officials who would have been tasked with implementing much of the bill, as well as the icy silence of other law enforcement groups.
Though the Supreme Court banned law enforcement agencies from awarding permits based on their own subjective discretion, the ruling left open the possibility that states can add on their own “objective” standards. Under Portantino’s bill, applicants would need to receive a psychological assessment, take at least 16 hours of safety training and provide three reference letters attesting to their moral fitness.
The ruling also permitted counties and states to specify certain “sensitive” gun-free zones. Under the bill, bars and restaurants, medical facilities, parks, public gatherings, airport parking lots and most private businesses would have fallen under that category.
For the bill’s opponents, exploiting a loophole left in the court’s opinion was too cute by half.
“The bait and switch of this bill is disingenuous,” Republican Assemblymember Thurston Smith from Hesperia said on the Assembly floor earlier this week.
Celebrating the bill’s failure on Thursday, National Rifle Association lobbyist Dan Reid called the bill “nothing more than pure defiance of the Supreme Court’s ruling.”