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March 15, 2013
John McGinness: There is one proposed gun law that is long overdue in California

(March 15 -- Special to The Bee)

Gun laws are a source of heated political discussion at the moment. Nationally, gun control advocates are proposing a ban on assault weapons, something that California has already enacted. They also would limit high-capacity magazines -- already in effect in California.

While other states wrestle with proposed regulation of gun shows, California has a very orderly process for transferring ownership at gun shows, including background checks and waiting periods.

Since these national proposals are old news in California, our legislators have been reduced to introducing proposals that amount to little more than posturing.

There is one proposal, however, that deserves better treatment: Senate Bill 140 by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. This bill would address the problem of guns in the hands of identified felons and the mentally incompetent. The California Department of Justice has a list of more than 19,000 such persons, but has done little about it.

SB 140 would appropriate approximately $24 million to hire new DOJ agents to get weapons out of the hands of such people. Unfortunately, due to the manner in which this bill is drafted, the worst of these criminals are likely to remain free and armed. This is because funding for new DOJ personnel would come from fees collected through gun transactions.

Such fees may only be used for purposes associated with conducting background checks on unlawful purchases. Therefore, it is predictable that a suit would be filed to stop this misappropriation.

Additionally, even if the courts ruled that these funds could be used, a legal opinion already suggests only weapons that were transferred at gun shows would be eligible for tracking and seizure. Criminals do not buy their guns at gun shows, where they must pass a background check with a 10-day waiting period.

This program needs to be conducted in conjunction with local law enforcement, not by the agency that is responsible for the current backlog.

Even if these flaws are corrected, while it would still take guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally incompetent, it will not put any felons behind bars. The reason for this is simple and undeniable: Early release laws enacted by these same legislators have created an environment in which all of these felons would be immediately released after booking.

The public expects effective law enforcement, but when politicians play games and grandstand, there is a political price to be paid. That was certainly the lesson New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo learned recently, when voters thought he was pandering on the gun control issue instead of seriously attempting to protect public safety, as evidenced by the 15-percentage-point hit the New York governor took in his approval rating following his course of action. California politicians would be well advised to be aware of the consequences of such an action.

We have an opportunity to do something beneficial if our legislators will fix a fatally flawed bill. Make it a general fund appropriation, and let local police, who are best prepared to handle these arrests, do their jobs.

John McGinness is the retired sheriff of Sacramento County, an adjunct professor of criminal justice and the host of "The John McGinness Show" on KFBK.

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