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Sensing changes in the national debate over gun control, Oakland city officials have engineered their own response to the Sandy Hook massacre. City Attorney Barbara Parker recently sent two pieces of firearms-related legislation to the city council: a resolution in support of a renewed federal assault weapons ban, which passed unanimously last month, and a measure to divest the city's pensions and other funds from firearms-related investments. The City Administrator's Office is currently researching the divestment measure. By focusing on gun manufacturers and the financial interests behind them, Oakland's two newest resolutions are shifting the local gun policy debate.
Oakland also is no stranger to legal battles with the gun industry. In 1999, the city joined what ultimately became an unsuccessful class-action lawsuit brought by several other Bay Area municipalities against the firearms industry. This legal setback, however, didn't prevent the Oakland City Council from passing laws in 2010 that require residents to report stolen guns to OPD within 48 hours, mandate thumbprints for all ammunition purchases, and enforce permit requirements for all ammunition and firearms sales in Oakland.
During the depths of the 1990s, when new drugs and newer, deadlier weapons fueled a spike in murders and assaults, Oakland beefed up its firearms regulations, attempting to do what the ATF has been prevented from doing by Congressional gun industry allies. Since 1992, the city has required police background checks of any gun dealer who hopes to set up shop there. Oakland also reserves the right to inspect any firearms dealer. In 1996, Oakland banned the sale of Saturday night specials, which had facilitated a spike in deadlier crimes in the city. This ban was firmed up in 2000 with an ordinance prohibiting compact handguns, then being marketed by the gun industry through their lobbyists who rewrote state laws allowing for concealed carry permits. These strict laws partly explain why there are no gun shops in Oakland today.
Ultimately, however, Oakland is between a rock and a hard place. Lasting, effective reforms must happen at the federal level, where the gun industry has exerted tremendous sway over the past forty years. Without actions that will stop the continual flood of increasingly deadly, militarized firearms in all states, Oakland will continue to be a victim of the gun industry and its potent lobby.
Professor Wintemute, who has decades of experience fighting the gun industry, said this is no reason to give up. "Later this year the California legislature is going to be considering a regulatory framework around the purchasing of ammo, similar to what we have for guns," he noted. "So if people try to purchase ammunition who are prohibited, they'll be blocked. Another bill will prohibit alcohol abusers from purchasing guns or ammo." Wintemute believes both reforms could save thousands of lives in California, regardless of whether the logjam at the federal level ever clears.
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