City Council members took a small step last week towards following Sunnyvale's lead in cracking down on illegal guns and large-capacity ammunition magazines.
Council member Mike Kasperzak prodded a majority of the council at the end of the May 28 meeting to request a memo about the legal status of Sunnyvale's new gun laws, which are being challenged by lawsuits. Kasperzak said he was spurred by the recent shooting in Santa Barbara and by former Mountain View mayor and state legislator Sally Lieber, who gave a speech on the issue at the start of the meeting, and organized a rally in Mountain View to promote new local gun laws several months ago.
"We're experiencing a public health epidemic of shootings that are both criminal and accidental every single day," Lieber said after the meeting. "I, like many other people, feel that we have to make some progress on this issue. We just can't accept anymore that people, including a large number of children, are going to get shot on any given day, month or year in the U.S. Many of us are very frustrated waiting for Congress. I think it's a case of Congress being bought off by the gun manufacturers. So we want to see progress at the state level and the local level."
"I think we in the community should have a discussion about these issues," Kasperzak said on Monday. "No amount of gun control law will bring everything to an end, but are there things you can do to limit it?"
While John Inks said no during his 2013 term, Kasperzak signed onto Mayors Against Illegal Guns during his 2012 mayoral term. Inks opposed the request for the staff memo, saying the information requested was readily available and "You could go get it. I could go get it and bring it here."
In November Sunnyvale's voters passed Measure C, which requires gun stores to keep a log of everyone who buys ammunition in Sunnyvale, bans the possession of ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds (except for those who owned theirs before 2000), requires guns be locked up in a container when not in use, and requires that lost or stolen guns be reported to police within 48 hours. The measure passed with 66 percent of voters in favor.
Shortly thereafter six Sunnyvale residents sued the city for banning their ammunition magazines holding over 10 bullets, which the NRA claims are in fact not "high capacity" but have been sold with millions of guns over the years.
"They are making the claim that the Second Amendment protects their right to large capacity magazines and we disagree with that position," said Tony Schoenberg, an attorney representing the city of Sunnyvale. "And so far our argument has prevailed with the court."
Court rulings upholding the law have been appealed and the case may end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. Schoenberg added, "It is my understanding the NRA (National Rifle Association) is funding the litigation," for the six residents.
Challenging everything else in the ordinance is a second lawsuit against Sunnyvale brought by a Sunnyvale gun store, U.S. Firearms, owned by Eric Fisher, and the National Sports Shooting Foundation. The lawsuit argues that the new laws are in conflict with state laws, including a state privacy protection law that would preempt the ammunition buyer log. Schoenberg said a county judge denied an injunction to temporarily suspend the portion of the law dealing with ammunition buyer data logs. The case is ongoing.
"It is a way that law enforcement can find people in possession of firearms illegally," Schoenberg said of the required ammunition buyer database. "If they are buying bullets it suggests they have guns."
Mountain View could implement similar laws by a simple City Council vote or by asking voters to decide at the ballot box.
"Given something as contentious as this (a ballot measure) would be a better way to go," Kasperzak said.
The city would be violating state law, said Lawrence Keane, general counsel for the National Sports Shooting Foundation.
"State law pre-empts local jurisdictions from regulating the lawful sale of firearms and ammunition products," Keane said. "Mountain View would simply be violating state law if it attempted to regulate an area the state Legislature says that it will control to the exclusion of local regulations."
"As we've seen in the recent tragedy, all the gun control laws in the world will not stop the actions of criminals," Keane said, adding that stopping criminals would require "more police officers on the street, more prosecutors in the courtrooms and more prison cells."
If Mountain View were to face legal challenges, legal costs may not be a concern. Schoenberg said his firm is providing its services for free in the Sunnyvale case, and other attorneys may do the same for Mountain View.
"We do have a network of pro bono firms that we work with and when a jurisdiction needs help, we send out a request to the firms and, frequently, we are able to find one that is willing and able to help," said Laura Cutilletta, a senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, in an email.
Such litigation "tends to be expensive," Schoenberg said.
"Our firm is doing this pro-bono for the city of Sunnyvale because we think these are important cases," Schoenberg said.
Greg David, owner of Eddy's Shooting Sports in Mountain View and a former City Council candidate, declined to comment about how such laws might effect his business as a gun dealer.