Will New L.A. Ordinance Turn Gun Owners Into Outlaws?

GunIf you’re a gun owner in the city of Los Angeles, you may soon be a criminal.

The City Council has passed an ordinance that bans the possession of any firearms magazine with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. With the mayor’s signature Friday, owners of the prohibited magazines now will have 60 days to turn them over to police, destroy them personally or move them to a location outside the city limits. The ordinance says owners can sell them, but don’t try it — state law prohibits the sale of “large-capacity” magazines and has since Jan. 1, 2000.

Because that state law banned the sale but not the possession of large-capacity magazines, existing property was effectively “grandfathered.” The Los Angeles ordinance makes no such accommodation.

“With a stroke of a pen the Los Angeles City Council has not only turned hundreds of thousands of law-abiding L.A. residents into criminals, they have made property that was legally purchased under state and federal law illegal to possess overnight,” said Paul Nordberg, director of the Calguns Foundation and president of Calguns.net, a highly trafficked online forum for California gun owners. “To the best of my knowledge there is no method or funding for informing the public of their change in status from law-abiding citizen to criminal.”

Nordberg says the people who will be hardest hit are those who participate in the sport of competitive shooting, enthusiasts who have spent tens of thousands of dollars on fees and equipment. Magazines with a capacity of 15 rounds are standard in national competitions. “I refuse to call them ‘high capacity,’” he said, “Fifteen rounds is the standard, and words have meaning.”

People who don’t live in Los Angeles are unaffected by the ordinance, unless they drive through L.A. to get to a shooting range or competition in an area outside the city’s boundaries. Then, Nordberg says, they risk “arrest, confiscation of property and possible loss of civil rights for simply doing the same thing they did the day before and have done for years, simply going to the shooting range with the legal property they have owned for over a decade.”

The City Council is working on a second ordinance that would mandate the use of gun locks in the home. That ordinance is modeled on laws in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that have so far been upheld by the federal courts.

But that may not last. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was not happy with the lower courts’ decision to uphold the mandatory gun lock law. “Despite the clarity with which we described the Second Amendment’s core protection for the right of self-defense, lower courts, including the ones here, have failed to protect it,” he wrote.

Still, the Supreme Court decided not to hear a challenge to the mandatory gun lock law — yet. So Los Angeles jumped right in to pass a similar ordinance.

California is one of only six states that has no “right to keep and bear arms” in its state constitution. In Nevada, for example, the state constitution says, “Every citizen has the right to keep and bear arms for security and defense, for lawful hunting and recreational use and for other lawful purposes.”

The Arizona constitution says, “The right of the individual citizen to bear arms in defense of himself or the State shall not be impaired, but nothing in this section shall be construed as authorizing individuals or corporations to organize, maintain or employ an armed body of men.” In Texas, “Every citizen shall have the right to keep and bear arms in the lawful defense of himself or the State; but the Legislature shall have power, by law, to regulate the wearing of arms, with a view to prevent crime.”

But in California the state constitution is silent, so gun owners in the Golden State must depend on the federal courts’ interpretation of the Second Amendment to protect their rights from infringement. That means lawsuits will be filed to challenge the two city ordinances, and city taxpayers will incur the costs of defending the ordinances in federal court.

To better protect Second Amendment rights in California, an amendment to the state constitution is needed that secures for Californians the protections that gun owners have in 43 other states. Without that, we’re at the mercy of politicians who like to score political points by criminalizing the actions of people who didn’t do anything to anybody.

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Susan Shelley is a San Fernando Valley author, a former television associate producer and twice a Republican candidate for the California Assembly. Reach her at Susan@SusanShelley.com, or follow her on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.