Despite California having some of the most restrictive gun control regulations in the country, the Mountain View City Council agreed Tuesday that more local action is needed to curb gun violence.
Council members unanimously backed a plan to prohibit the possession of firearms and ammunition on all public property, including parks, schools, recreational facilities and municipal buildings. They also asked staff to draft a safe storage ordinance making it a requirement for gun owners to lock up and store firearms to prevent theft and accidental shootings.
Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga said the proposed prohibitions and safe storage requirement would amount to the city catching up. Sunnyvale, for example, has been on the leading edge of gun control regulations, including a high profile ban on the possession of "large-capacity" magazines.
"I think the more localities sign on to these policies, the more it spreads, hopefully, and it does become more of a national movement," Abe-Koga said. "I think it's time for us to join up."
The idea of clamping down on firearm possession and gun sales in Mountain View came up in the wake of a deadly shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July last year, in which three people were killed and 12 injured. Councilwoman Lisa Matichak, then serving as mayor, joined 278 other mayors in signing a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to take up and pass bills that would strengthen background checks aimed at keeping dangerous individuals from obtaining a firearm.
Though it failed to get majority support at the Jan. 28 council meeting, Abe-Koga advocated for taking it a step further by cracking down on firearm sales in the city. She supported an ordinance that would prohibit the sale of firearms near areas deemed "sensitive," which could include schools, day care centers and parks, and ban firearm dealers that do business inside their homes.
There are two brick-and-mortar gun stores and three licensed dealers in residential areas in Mountain View, according to a city staff report. Though zoning buffers for firearm dealers and a ban on home sales won some praise among council members, the ideas were ultimately tabled after staff said it would take significant time and effort and have a relatively limited effect on gun safety.
Former state Assemblywoman Sally Lieber, currently running for state Senate, advocated for all four of the gun-control options on the table, calling them a "great place to start" and in tune with the opinion of residents.
"I think that I'm a lot like my neighbors in Mountain View and the overwhelming majority of people who do actually live here in saying we want more regulations in this area," she said.
Though the idea didn't gain traction among council members, Lieber said the city should quash gun sales among home businesses and not grandfather any existing businesses on safety grounds, pointing to a 2015 incident in which a home with several rifles and a large quantity of ammunition caught fire. Though it's unclear whether the home was being used for sales, the ammo inside the garage exploded rapidly during the blaze.
Not everyone was enthusiastic about the city's proposed regulations. Former councilman John Inks said that the additional laws won't stop gun violence and criminal activity involving firearms, but would instead target gun owners who follow the rules. He said the city should stick to community development and maintaining public infrastructure rather than wading into the gun control debate and passing local restrictions.
"The plain truth is that common criminals, psychopathic killers, people who tend to be suicidal, are not deterred by these laws," he said. "Instead they put burdens on otherwise law-abiding gun owners who actually in some ways have been criminalized by this type of ordinance."
Unlike the sitting council members, Inks was a frequent critic of gun control during his tenure on the council and in 2013 declined to join a coalition called Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Jess Guy, a frequent shopper at Eddy's Shooting Sports in Mountain View and a former special agent for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), told the Voice that it's difficult to imagine how any of the proposed regulations would improve gun safety. There's no clear connection between shooting incidents and the proximity of gun shops to schools or day care centers, he said, and the city's staff report does not cite any evidence or data to support buffer zones of up to 1,000 feet.
"Many of these (proposals) are preempted by state law and many of them serve no purpose other than to harass gun stores and people who own firearms," he said.
Guy said he wasn't sure whether zoning restrictions could spell the end for stores like Eddy's or the Bay Area Gun Vault in Mountain View, but said neighboring cities have snuffed out legitimate businesses under the guise of public safety. He recalled one gun shop in Los Gatos that was open for no more than five months before a regional coalition of residents sought to shut it down by making it run afoul with a new zoning ordinance. It was given a grace period of a few years to relocate, but ultimately closed.
Council members did not take formal votes, but asked staff to come back with an expanded prohibition on firearm possession on all public properties. The exact details of the local law remain murky -- Matichak said she wasn't sure how public property would be defined, but she assumed it didn't include all of the city's streets and sidewalks. The ordinance would likely leave out schools as well, as possession of a gun on campus is already banned under state laws.
Even less clear is how the city intends to roll out a safe storage ordinance. State laws require gun owners to store firearms in a locked container or disable them with a locking device in circumstances where they could be accessed by a child or someone prohibited from possessing a gun. City laws can take it a step further, requiring safe storage of all firearms regardless of who may have access to them.
But enforcement of beefed-up safe storage requirements would be tricky. The police department cannot proactively check homes and vehicles for compliance due to constitutional protections preventing unreasonable search and seizure, meaning violations would need to be discovered "incidentally," such as during a criminal investigation.
Limitations aside, Councilwoman Alison Hicks said she supports a stronger safe storage law, noting that access to guns is a concern among parents when setting up play dates and that a fellow student of hers in middle school inadvertently shot himself with a gun that he thought wasn't loaded. She said outreach and information to gun owners may be a good way to get around the limitations of enforcement.
"This is something I've seen repeatedly throughout my life and I would like to see some education around that," she said.