Can California go any stronger on gun laws?

Your guide to California policy and politics
Ben Christopher BY Ben Christopher January 27, 2023
Presented by Dairy Cares, Climate-Smart Agricultural Partnership and Southern California Gas Company

Can California go any stronger on gun laws?

Has California reached an upper limit on what it can do to regulate guns?

Following a pattern as old as gun control itself, state lawmakers are responding to the back-to-back mass shootings that killed 18 people this week with more legislation:

Democratic Sens. Catherine Blakespear of Encinitas and Nancy Skinner of Oakland announced Thursday they’re introducing a first-in-the-nation proposal that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance to cover the “negligent or accidental” misuse of their firearms. If that sounds familiar, San Jose has a similar local ordinance.

  • Blakespear, in a statement: “Firearms are similar to cars in that they are inherently dangerous and are in wide circulation. If a car accidentally causes injury to a person or property, the insurance policy will compensate the victim. The same approach should apply to injuries caused by guns.”

Assemblymember Laurie Davies, a San Juan Capistrano Republican, introduced a bill that would require the state Department of Justice to share all relevant information about people in the state’s Armed Prohibited Persons System, a database of Californians legally barred from owning firearms, with local law enforcement agencies. Davies cited reporting by CalMatters on the system’s layered, and sometimes lethal, failures.

And earlier this week, Sen. Dave Min, a Costa Mesa Democrat who recently announced that he’s running for Congress, introduced a bill that would require all federally licensed gun sellers to take an annual training course on “responsible sales practices.”

Meanwhile, a bill to revamp the state’s concealed carry permitting system is still being ironed out after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted the state’s prior one and the Legislature failed to pass a replacement last fall

If all these bills seem to pick at the edges of the state’s gun violence problem, that might be because all the low-hanging fruit has long since been picked clean. There’s only so much more California can do on its own.

A gun buyer willing to skirt the law could evade state restrictions by shopping in Arizona or Nevada, where the rules are much laxer. And California’s existing gun laws are already being whittled away by a more conservative federal judiciary

That may be why Gov. Gavin Newsom did not unveil any new state policy ideas during his visit to Half Moon Bay on Tuesday, but instead inveighed against Republicans in Congress.

  • Newsom: “We can’t do this alone. And with all due respect, we feel like we are.”

On Thursday morning, a group of Democratic U.S. senators, including California’s Alex Padilla, held a press conference to respond to the recent mass shootings — but which also underscored just how unlikely new federal legislation is anytime soon.

The senators called upon the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Wee 1 Tactical, a company that produces and sells the “JR-15,” a semi-automatic rifle marketed to children. That gun also helped to inspire a new California law.

Padilla said he hopes that Congress, the GOP majority in the House notwithstanding, might still pass new gun restrictions. But not all of the Democrats were so optimistic. 

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut: “We don’t need a new law. What we need is enforcement.”

Indeed, the most immediate policy response to the Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay shootings might not have anything to do with guns at all.

On Wednesday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on working and living conditions at the two mushroom farms where both the shooter and the victims of the Half Moon Bay mass killing event worked. According to former employees, local prosecutors and farmworker advocates, some of the workers lived in “shipping containers,” were not paid the minimum wage and were required to “wash clothes in pits in the backyard.” 

A spokesperson at one of the two farms denied that characterization. But a spokesperson for the governor said the administration is investigating.

  • Daniel Villaseñor: “The conditions farmworkers shared with the Governor — being paid $9 an hour and living in shipping containers — are simply deplorable.”

The coronavirus bottom line: As of Tuesday, California had 11,016,379 confirmed cases and 99,130 total deaths, according to state data now updated just once a week on Thursdays.

CalMatters is also tracking coronavirus hospitalizations by county.California has administered 87,692,717 total vaccine doses, and 72.6% of eligible Californians have received their primary vaccine series.


1 CARE Court contested

A faded American flag hangs outside of a pitched tent on the Santa Ana River trail as an unhoused person walks into the tent in Anaheim on Jan. 22, 2018. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo
A faded American flag hangs outside a homeless person’s tent on the Santa Ana River trail in Anaheim on Jan. 22, 2018. Photo by Jae C. Hong, AP Photo

Gov. Newsom’s new court system to force people with severe, untreated mental illnesses into housing and treatment is set to roll out this year. The Community Assistance, Recovery, and Empowerment Court won approval from the Legislature last fall with only two “no” votes

As politics, it was a monumental, bipartisan success. But as a policy, the CARE Court is “radical,” “unconstitutionally vague,” and certain to result in “discriminatory decision-making.” 

That’s according to a lawsuit filed Thursday by Disability Rights California and two other civil rights groups, which are urging the state Supreme Court to stop the new homelessness initiative.

  • The petition: The law “singles out people with schizophrenia and, without constitutionally adequate justification, subjects them to burdens not imposed on others. Moreover…a disproportionate number of Black people are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia leading to targeted racial disparities.”
  • A Newsom spokesperson: “There’s nothing compassionate about allowing individuals with severe, untreated mental health and substance use disorders to suffer in our alleyways, in our criminal justice system, or worse — face death.”

Public health and law enforcement agencies are scrambling to get the new court systems in place. What does that look like? On this week’s episode of the “Gimme Shelter” podcast, Orange County’s behavioral health director explains what’s happening on the ground — and what Californians should expect.

In other state policy news: 

2 The storms’ silver lining

Engineers in the Snow Surveys and Water Supply Forecasting Unit begin the measurement phase of the first media snow survey of the season at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Fred Greaves, California Department of Water Resources
State engineers measured the snowpack at Phillips Station in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on Jan. 3, 2023. Photo by Fred Greaves, California Department of Water Resources

What a difference nine consecutive atmospheric rivers make.

In December, state water managers announced thirsty farmers and other users of the State Water Project, the canal system that pipes water from the Sacramento Valley to Southern California, would only be getting 5% of their requested allotment

Thirty-two trillion gallons of rain, sleet and snow later — but also after death and devastation — the state Department of Water Resources announced Thursday it’s upping its estimated water deliveries to 30% of requests. That’s the highest January figure since 2017, CalMatters Alastair Bland reports.

The final allotment won’t be determined until the spring, but the increase is welcome news for a parched state — even if the drought still isn’t over and no other major storms are in the forecast. (Keep up with the water numbers in the CalMatters tracker.)  

  • Las Virgenes Municipal Water District spokesperson Mike McNutt: “Mother Nature is giving us a chance to catch our breath.”

3 Schiff is in

US Representative Adam Schiff attends a press conference after the United States House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on Dec. 18, 2019. Photo by Stefani Reynolds, CNP/ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters
Rep. Adam Schiff attends a press conference after the U.S. House voted to impeach then-President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 18, 2019. Photo by Stefani Reynolds, CNP/ABACAPRESS.COM via Reuters

No surprise, but Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of Burbank is running to become California’s next U.S. senator.

Schiff’s announcement Thursday comes two weeks after his fellow SoCal Democrat, Rep. Katie Porter, made her announcement. A little while after that Oakland Rep. Barbara Lee reportedly told her colleagues that she plans to run, too.

The one person who has yet to make an announcement: California’s current Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 89, who is widely expected to forgo seeking a sixth full six-year-term. 

Schiff, Porter and (presumably) Lee offer voters three distinct, liberal-to-left choices for the March 2024 primary:

An empty seat in politics abhors a vacuum. With Schiff officially running, a battle between two sitting Democratic legislators looms for his seat in 2024: state Sen. Anthony Portantino of Burbank has expressed interest, while Assemblymember Laura Friedman of Burbank announced today she’s running.

Gaming it out: Portantino has more money in the bank, but more of Friedman’s current voters live in the congressional district.


Other things worth your time

Some stories may require a subscription to read

Battles continue over who will lead California Assembly // Los Angeles Times

The shrinking Colorado River: The crisis transforming the Southwest // Los Angeles Times

Republicans gather in OC for their first big meeting since the midterms // NBC News

5 takeaways from the massive layoffs hitting Big Tech right now // NPR

More Chukchansi members targeted for removal, have benefits suspended // Fresno Bee

Undercutting official count, survey finds L.A. homelessness up in hot spots // Los Angeles Times

California judge orders release of footage of Pelosi attack // Associated Press

The tech companies abandoning San Francisco office space // San Francisco Standard

California enacts new abortion laws, expecting copycats // Politico

LA company buys Imperial Valley property for EV battery production // Spectrum News 1

839-acre property with ocean views preserved in land deal with enviro group // Mercury News

Harmeet Dhillon, the San Franciscan hoping to lead the GOP // San Francisco Chronicle

California wants to ban the toxic chemical that gives chrome its shine // Los Angeles Times

Rally at Santee council meeting in defense of transgender woman // San Diego Union-Tribune

Opinion: Facebook must keep Trump on a short leash // Slate

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