California Democrat proposes mandatory gun registration

A California Democrat is proposing a new law requiring residents to register their shotguns and rifles or go to jail, CBSNews.com has learned.

Assemblyman Mike Feuer, whose district includes Beverly Hill and West Hollywood, this week introduced legislation ordering law enforcement to "permanently keep" records of anyone who buys a gun from a dealer or an individual. California already stores information about handgun purchases.

Feuer is no friend of firearms owners: his previous legislative effort, which Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law, required all new handguns to include "microstamping" technology that can imprint serial numbers on spent ammunition casings. As a Los Angeles city councilman, Feuer proposed limiting city residents to one gun a month.

Feuer spokeswoman Arianna Smith declined to answer questions about the bill on Tuesday afternoon, saying the staff member involved was in a meeting and not immediately available.

The proposal comes as the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a landmark civil rights case, McDonald v. Chicago, which will decide whether Second Amendment rights in the federal constitution trump state anti-gun laws. But California is proposing mandatory registration -- and not a flat ban, as Washington, D.C. once tried and the justices rejected -- and even legal scholars specializing in this area disagree about whether registration is constitutional.

"Even though the constitutionality of such a measure is a close call, it is a horrible public policy choice," says Gene Hoffman, chairman of the CalGuns Foundation. "Just as Canada is about to do away with their long gun registry after squandering $1 billion, California wishes to attack law abiding gun owners for firearms not used in crime."

A CBC News article last month reported that the Canadian parliament is backing away from the nation's gun registry, which was enacted in 1989 and has now come under fire by critics who call it a billion-dollar boondoggle.

Feuer's bill isn't exactly a surprise: He told the Brady Campaign, an anti-gun advocacy group, earlier this year that his forthcoming proposal would give law enforcement another tool to track down people in possession of illegal firearms. "This legislation will close a glaring loophole and ensure that all firearm records, not just handgun records, are maintained for law enforcement purposes," Ellen Boneparth, spokesperson for the California Brady Campaign Chapters, said in a statement at the time.

Feuer appears to have adopted an unusual approach to introducing his mandatory registration bill. He took an existing piece of criminal legislation, AB 1810, that dealt with graffiti and vandalism, and replaced it with a completely new version with the same bill number.

A hearing is scheduled for April 13 in Sacramento before the California State Assembly's Committee on Public Safety.

At the moment, a minority of states including New York, Maryland, California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts require mandatory registration for handguns. Others, like Pennsylvania, require sales of handguns to go through a dealer, who keeps records of the transaction.

No federal firearm registry exists, though some anti-gun types have pushed for one in the past. An unsuccessful 1995 bill, H.R. 169, would have imposed California-style registration of handguns nationwide through a "federal handgun registration system." Violations would have been punished by up to 12 years in prison. The author of the bill, Rep. Cardiss Collins, D-Illinois, told her colleagues at the time that "I still believe the best way to control handguns is to ban them outright."


Declan McCullagh is a correspondent for CBS Interactive's CNET News and a contributor to CBSNews.com. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired.
  • Declan McCullagh On Twitter»

    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.

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