California Rings in Stricter Gun Laws

Californians with convictions get more chances to move on while gun owners face new restrictions.

Of the dozens of new state laws that went into effect on Jan. 1, a few that could land you in more legal trouble — or ease past mistakes — are worth paying attention to.

Would-be gun owners with a criminal conviction are the main target in a state whose gun laws were already tough. For one, superintendents no longer have the power to decide if school employees can bring concealed weapons to campus.

Further protecting public spaces, Gov. Jerry Brown closed another loophole that previously allowed those with long guns like rifles to carry them openly in unincorporated areas in an effort to stop citizen militias from brandishing them at political rallies.

Homemade guns — often stealthily assembled from a kit — that were previously untraceable now require registration, serial numbers, and criminal background checks before they can be legally used. And whether there’s a gun involved or not, courts can now consider violent crimes recorded or live-streamed on platforms like Facebook as willfully encouraging crime.

California is also holding people with criminal convictions to account. In order to finalize a court case upon conviction, defendants must prove that they’ve dumped any firearms they own (thanks to a 2016 ballot measure).

No court process previously existed to ensure that weapons left the hands of convicted abusers, but the new system could come at a burdensome cost to law enforcement entities. They may impose fees for processing costs, but the proposition impact report indicated that it may not be enough.

Another bill adds hate crimes — like tagging swastikas on synagogues — to a list of misdemeanors that prohibit the offender from legally owning a gun for 10 years after a conviction.

While gun laws have become stricter, in other areas the criminal justice system has grown more forgiving. Having a criminal conviction — say, for a robbery or for selling weed that’s now legal in the state — no longer means having to check a box on a job application admitting so.

Since 2014, San Francisco has “banned the box” for anyone seeking work in the city through an employer with at least 20 workers, but the new law expands statewide legislation to cover all jobs. Supporters say it helps people with past convictions have a fair chance at being hired, rather than be locked out of employment for mistakes of the past.

Meanwhile, younger citizens convicted of a crime will get more sympathetic consideration. Individuals up to 25 years of age can now be considered for youth-offender parole, a bump from the previous cap at age 23.

Plus, families are no longer on the hook for hidden costs of juvenile detention, such as fees for moving detainees between facilities or for drug tests. Supporters of the new law say the wide-ranging fees mostly affected low-income families and communities of color.

At this rate, criminal justice advocates will have more chances to help people with convictions rebuild their lives, and Californians may have more reason to live without fear of gun violence.

Related Stories