Dear Neel: You Just Don’t Get Gun Rights

Dear Neel,

Back in February, you told students at California State University, Sacramento, that you were “not running on an agenda of the Second Amendment.”

Apparently you changed your mind.

During yesterday’s debate, you asked your gubernatorial primary opponent, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, why he would introduce a bill “that takes power away from County Sheriffs and puts it in the hands of Kamala Harris.”

I’ll be happy to explain why Assemblyman Donnelly’s AB 1563 was the most comprehensive, pro-gun carry reform bill ever introduced in the Golden State. But, before I do, here’s a riddle: What do you, the anti-gun Brady Campaign (formerly Handgun Control, Inc.), the elitist GOP establishment and their Democratic counterparts, and anti-carry sheriffs like San Diego County’s Bill Gore and Yolo’s Ed Prieto all have in common?

The answer is that you all believe the same thing: “Local control is an essential feature of our [handgun carry license] system.”

Were you to have any understanding of the history of the right to carry, you’d know that the phrase “local control” is nothing less than doublespeak for “local discrimination.” Thankfully, the Ninth Circuit recently held that the “local control” carry license policies and practices of Sheriffs Gore and Prieto violated the Second Amendment. AB 1563 followed lockstep with that historic decision.

California’s history of infringing the fundamental right to bear arms has, since 1923, centered on the principles of local control, giving local elected politicians and city bureaucrats the power to decide, on a subjective, case-by-case basis, which law-abiding people can exercise their fundamental Second Amendment right to self-defense outside their home.

For nearly a century, our state’s hundreds of licensing authorities have used criteria like campaign contributions, personal relationships, occupation, race, residence, and wealth as determining factors in approving or denying carry licenses. Because of local control, only about 60,000 of California’s 38 million residents can carry a gun for self-defense today. Based on the national average, that means about 1.1 million law-abiding Californians currently want to carry a handgun, but can’t, thanks to local control.

That, Neel, is what I call infringing our fundamental right to keep and bear arms.

Assemblyman Donnelly’s AB 1563 would have eliminated local control and taken away “the power of the political perk” from anti-gun licensing authorities like Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi.

Instead of the unconstitutional laws we have today, AB 1563 would have instituted a statewide “shall-issue” system with a clear mandate: each and every California applicant who is legally eligible to possess a handgun, completes a short training course, and pays a nominal application fee must be issued a license to carry within 30 days, rather than the months (or years) and hundreds or thousands of dollars it takes today. AB 1563 also preempted local restrictions like San Mateo County’s unconstitutional ban on carry in public parks.

Even the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an anti-Second Amendment group based in San Francisco, understood AB 1563 better than you do: “AB 1563 would eliminate the good cause and good moral character requirements and simply allow anyone who is not prohibited from possessing firearms and who has completed a training course of eight hours or less to carry hidden, loaded handguns anywhere in the state.”

Assemblyman Donnelly’s AB 1563 did not allow for any wiggle room, by Attorney General Kamala Harris or anyone that follows her. Had you actually read the bill, you would have discovered these important changes to the law:

AB 1563 would have repealed the entire chapter of the California Penal Code on carry licenses (section 26150, et seq.) and replaced it with a new, constitutional shall-issue system.
AB 1563 would have eliminated byzantine local rules, nepotism, corruption, and discriminatory issuance practices.
AB 1563 would have streamlined and standardized the process, making it vastly easier to exercise your rights.
AB 1563 would have allowed residents of other U.S. states to apply for a California carry license.
AB 1563 would have guaranteed that eligible applicants who pass a background check would receive their carry license within 30 days (for residents) or 60 days (for non-residents).
AB 1563 would have made carry licenses valid for a period of 5 years (instead of the current 2 years).
AB 1563 would have significantly reduced the cost of a carry license.
AB 1563 would have mandated an appeals process for denied applicants.
Your support of local sheriffs’ “power” includes that wielded by recently-retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, who disenfranchised one of the largest populations in the nation by refusing to issue carry licenses to those who weren’t Hollywood celebrities, donors, or otherwise politically connected.

Now, I could simply assume that you’re just uneducated on our civil rights issue, that you’re ignorant of the history and importance of our constitutional guarantees, and that you don’t understand why we cannot compromise the future of our great republic by treating Second Amendment rights as second-class rights.

But I can’t help but consider what you said in February: “If you’re a single issue voter, and you just want someone to give you a full capacity assault rifle magazine, God bless you, you can go vote for somebody else. I’m not your guy.”

Given your clear position on our Second Amendment rights and outrageous misinformation campaign attacking the pro-gun rights bill AB 1563, I agree: You’re not my guy.

I encourage you to educate yourself on history. Get a book on civics. Read up on the Second Amendment and landmark cases like D.C. v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. Maybe even talk to an expert or two. I’ll be happy to teach you how to read a bill and explain the virtues of our Bill of Rights anytime you’re interested in taking the constitution seriously.


Brandon Combs is a proud California gun owner, president of California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees, executive director of The Calguns Foundation, and managing director of the national Firearms Policy Coalition.

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