New law would help Oakland get guns off street

By Chip Johnson Updated 7:31 pm, Monday, October 7, 2013

In Oakland, where the smallest slight – real or imagined – can result in someone pulling out a gun, any government policy that addresses gun violence is welcomed.

I saw a friend at a party over the weekend whose recent experience only bolstered concerns about the proliferation of guns on Oakland streets and the dire need to address it from all angles.

He was driving up a street in West Oakland when he came across two cars blocking the roadway. When he asked one of the drivers to let him pass, one of the motorists pulled out a gun – and followed him for a block.

He was uninjured, but it rattled him to his bones. He’s not a street player. He’s not a gangster. He’s a working guy who was just trying to make his way home.

But that simple act alone underscores the problem we face in Oakland.

There could be help on the way. By this time next week, Oakland could be the only city in California with the right to make its own rules governing gun licensing and registration.

In a city where three more people died violentlyover the weekend, a city with more than 4,000 armed robberies this year and more than 4,000 cases of gun-related crime last year, we need all the help state government can provide.

AB180, sponsored by state Assemblyman Rob Bonta, whose 18th District includes Oakland, is now on Gov. Jerry Brown‘s desk. For the bill to become law, it must be signed by the governor by midnight on Sunday.

The bill would empower the City Council to approve and enact a local ordinance requiring gun owners to annually register and license all firearms with a city agency.

Bonta’s bill would create a special provision in the law to address an especially nasty problem with gun violence in Oakland that has gone on, largely unabated, for years.

“This is a bill that provides authority that is now exclusive to the state,” Bonta said in a phone interview on Monday. “It’s a transfer of authority from the state to the locality because Oakland is unique in the state and the nation in the way gun violence has affected the community.”

The City Council has voted unanimously to support Bonta’s legislation, and the proposed law has also received the support of Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern and the Oakland Police Department.

Bonta’s bill is one of a dozen proposed gun laws now in the governor’s office. There’s no one in Sacramento more aware of the devastating effects that violence has had on Oakland than the governor. He is a resident of Oakland, its former two-term mayor, and one of the city’s staunchest supporters since moving here in the mid-1990s.

Bonta is the first to admit that his bill is not a cure-all for the city’s gun violence, but it’s another tool in the city’s arsenal to fight crime, reduce gun violence and track guns from their origins to their current owners.

The wild card in this process is local government. There are concerns in Sacramento about whether Oakland’s elected leadership can craft and approve a local firearms registration and licensing requirement without the public debate becoming mired in infighting and chaos during public meetings.

“I know that he’s (Brown) hearing criticisms, that Oakland is not to be trusted with this, but we know that when we have data and act on it, we’ve been able to identify illegal gun traffickers,” said Councilwoman Libby Schaaf.

A gun ordinance would also give the city the right to remove guns from people whose names are listed on a statewide list of people prohibited from owning firearms. The state list is currently backlogged with tens of thousands of people.

With that same information, a local agency could act much more swiftly to locate people on that list and use the information to track firearms back to their point of origin and identify illegal gun traffickers, said Schaaf.

Oakland residents deserve all the help the state can provide to address the worst gun-violence problem in California and the single biggest impediment to progress, economic growth and quality of life for all Oakland citizens.