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Oakland steps into nationwide gun debate

Jeremy Dalmas
While working on this mural last October, artist Antonio Ramos was shot and killed with a firearm that had been stolen from the car of an U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent.


When President Barack Obama announced his executive order tightening rules on selling guns last week, he called on local governments around the country to step up, saying, “all of us need to demand governors and legislators and businesses do their part to make our community safer.”

The city of Oakland, with one of the highest rates of violent crime in the nation, is heeding that call. Local politicians are poised to pass three new gun laws that they hope will protect their citizens and set a national precedent.

When the council first took up the new laws last week, they passed with a unanimous initial vote. City clerk LaTonda Simmons adjourned the meeting with a tribute to the memory of Torian Hughes, the grandson of Council President Lynette Gibson McElhaney. He was shot and killed last month in an attempted robbery in West Oakland. Her colleague, Councilmember Anne Campbell Washington, helped write the new legislation, which she says has been in the works for months, even before recent high-profile gun deaths.

“It does not matter what day you bring forward gun legislation here in our country,” she said. “It's always going to be on the heels of a terrible gun death because we have an awful crisis in our country around guns.”


Oakland’s gun laws


The first new law is about security.

“You will either - when you're in your residence - have it on your person or it should have a trigger lock or be in a gun locker,” said Campbell Washington.

The second law would require firearms in cars to be secured. According to the Oakland Police Department, around 300 firearms were stolen from vehicles between 2004 and 2015.

The third law would make it illegal to have magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Campbell Washington said, “no one needs a large capacity magazine for self-defense.”

The new ordinances won’t affect law enforcement, but Campbell Washington is working on separate legislation that would require local police to store their firearms safely in their vehicles. She wants the city’s laws to be comprehensive.

“The more cities that take this action - helps states then move on that legislation,” she said. “And what I am hoping is that eventually it will turn into real action that everyone is clamoring for at the federal level.”


Statewide initiatives, and some pushback

Los Angeles has already passed similar legislation to Oakland. And Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom is hoping to put a gun-control measure on the November 2016 state ballot.

There’s been some pushback though. LA was sued by the California Rifle and Pistol Association — the official state branch of the NRA. Oakland’s bill isn’t even finalized yet, and the NRA has already sent a letter to the city threatening to sue. When I asked the NRA’s lawyers for comment, they emailed a statement saying, in part:

“Until our society is willing to address the complex problem of our violent culture instead of repurposing well-worn panaceas, we will be left with little more than politicians pandering for votes on the backs of tragic events.”

Anne Campbell Washington expected the NRA’s lawsuit, but she says that won’t stop Oakland from moving forward.

“I plainly say that we do not allow the NRA to dictate our public policy here in Oakland,” she said.

The council’s final vote will be on January 19th and the ordinances are expected to pass unanimously. Violations will be a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail, a $1,000 fine, or both.


Crosscurrents Oakland