In the wake of a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last summer, Santa Clara County leaders this week approved a new gun control law that requires firearm owners to safely lock their weapons when not in arm’s reach.
The Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance requiring the safe storage of firearms within residences on unincorporated county land. The new law requires firearms either be lawfully carried by residents, in their close proximity and control, or disabled with a trigger lock or in a locked container when left unattended. The storage requirements do not apply when firearms are carried outside of residences.
But regulating guns isn’t so simple – especially in the unincorporated parts of the county. That’s why Supervisor Dave Cortese worked to strike a balance with the law and take into consideration the needs of the rural communities.
County officials did not replicate laws already in effect in cities like Sunnyvale and San Francisco. Instead, they worked to tweak the language to consider both of the county’s diverse urban and rural populations, such as making an exception for facilities that could be deemed “residences” during hunting trips or target practice.
Officials have been working on the county law since August, and will be collecting more feedback before it goes into effect early next year.
“I think that’s good, because there’s some nuanced issues within the issue,” Cortese told San José Spotlight. “For the next 100 days, we want people to give authentic input into how can we make this into something to be proud of for everybody, useful for everybody and not result in unintended outcomes.”
Those kinds of conversations are what Santa Clara gun enthusiast Kirk Vartan previously advocated for in an op-ed for San José Spotlight.
“Something we need to do is have a respectful, balanced conversation about guns in our society,” said Vartan, who was one of the facilitators of last year’s Community Summit on Firearms Safety. “I think Cortese tried to do that, and I think it’s a good start, but when you’re doing (a summit which attracted 300 people) at the county level, it can’t get very deep and was just scratching the surface.”
Vartan said he’s concerned that this ordinance will hinder the ability for residents to use firearms for self-defense. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t lock up your weapons and secure them, I’m just suggesting you shouldn’t criminalize somebody for trying to protect themselves,” he said.
Rayna Ritchie, a local California DOJ firearms safety certificate instructor, agrees, saying unlocking a lockbox can be extremely difficult during harrowing incidents such as break-ins.
“Under the influence of the adrenaline dump that a resident will experience, the ability to manipulate locking mechanisms is greatly reduced,” said Ritchie, who is a lifetime member of the NRA, California Rifle and Pistol Association, and Second Amendment Foundation.
Ritchie thinks the county law is overreaching, especially in homes without children, and said it likely won’t reduce suicides, despite its intent, because a locking mechanism would not dissuade someone who has access to the safe from ending their life.
Cortese disagrees with critics about suicide prevention, but said he’ll reanalyze the law’s impact after it’s enacted. “If the suicide numbers don’t go down at some point, I’d be the first one to say: nice try, but wrong remedy,” Cortese said. “But I think if we save one life or five lives, that’s a good day.”
The push for additional gun control legislation in the Bay Area, despite California having some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, comes after four people were gunned down at the Gilroy Garlic Festival last July. The county joins its largest city in these efforts, after San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a mandatory liability insurance for gun owners in August.
The proposal would require gun owners to carry the insurance or pay an in-lieu fee. Policies would pay victims after accidental discharges or intentional acts of third parties who steal, borrow or acquire the gun – similar to auto liability insurance.
Public input and questions about the county’s safe storage ordinance can be sent through the county’s website. Final approval of the law is expected on Dec. 10.