Seeking to strengthen California's gun laws, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed, on Sept. 26, a pair of bills authored by Assembly member Marc Berman, D-Menlo Park. The bills empower the Department of Justice to conduct firearm inspection and also require firearm sellers to provide information about the risks of gun ownership.
The bills were Berman's response to the January shooting in Half Moon Bay, which claimed the lives of seven people. Berman, who is a founding member of the Legislature's Gun Violence Working Group, said, "The incident rocked (his) district."
"In the aftermath, the message from my constituents was clear: do more to combat gun violence," Berman said in a statement. "We have endured our collective grief and frustration long enough."
Both bills easily sailed through the state Legislature over the past month. AB 1420 advanced with a 75-5 vote in the Assembly and a 33-5 vote in the state Senate, while AB 1598 moved ahead with votes of 63-13 in the Assembly and 30-5 in the Senate.
AB 1420 came out of a partnership between Berman and the state Department of Justice, which sponsored the bill. The law authorizes the DOJ to conduct firearm dealer inspection and requires it to maintain information about firearm dealers who were found to have violated state gun statutes. It also expands the department's authority to assess civil fines against firearm dealers.
While the DOJ already has the authority to conduct spot checks of firearms dealers, this power is limited to checking for compliance with specific statutes that are listed in a section of a penal code that has not been updated since 2010, according to the Assembly bill analysis. The analysis notes that DOJ representatives who conduct inspections "often observe non-compliance with more recent laws, but do not have the authority to cite for those violations."
State Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement that the bill will expand the DOJ's ability to conduct inspections and "ensure dealers are following California's gun laws."
"California has some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation — and these laws save lives," Bonta said. "AB 1420 provides the California DOJ with the necessary authority and tools to hold accountable gun dealers who transfer, sell, or store firearms in violation of these laws.
"I thank Assembly member Marc Berman and our state leaders for advancing AB 1420 to help ensure that law enforcement has the tools we need to enforce California's common-sense gun laws and keep our communities safe."
Berman said in a statement that bad actor gun shops are currently skirting California's laws. AB 1420, he said, will crack down on these businesses.
His other bill, AB 1598, targets education rather than enforcement. It requires the Department of Justice to put together a firearm-safety-certificate study guide and a pamphlet on the risks and benefits of firearm ownership. Starting Jan. 1, 2025, firearms dealers will be required to provide the most recent copy of the pamphlet to anyone buying or being loaned a firearm.
In explaining the bill, Berman cited a statistic from the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which reported that the presence of a gun in the household increases the risk of homicide for women by 500%. The bill, he said, will "ensure that Californians are fully informed of the risk of gun ownership before they buy a gun."
"Many people buy firearms because they think it will make them safer at home. The evidence is indisputable, however: keeping a firearm in your home dramatically increases the likelihood that you or someone you love will be a victim of gun violence," Berman said in a statement. "The data clearly shows that having a firearm at home increases the risk of death or serious injury by suicide, homicide, or unintentional injury."
Both bills advanced with no formal opposition. Dr. Raul Ayala, president of the California Academy of Family Physicians, said in a statement that physicians have long recognized gun violence as a "national public health epidemic."
"We care for victims of gun violence every day," Ayala said. "Gun violence is a physical and psychological trauma that affects the health of our patients, families, and communities.
"AB 1598 is part of a needed comprehensive public health approach to address the gun violence epidemic by requiring education and demonstrated knowledge about the responsibilities of gun ownership and operation."