SAN DIEGO — The San Diego City Council Monday tentatively approved an ordinance that would require gun owners to store guns in a locked container or disable them with a trigger lock when not in use or being worn on their person.
City Attorney Mara Elliott proposed the ordinance last month with the intention of reducing accidental shootings, children's access to guns and suicides. According to Elliott, 46% of gun owners in the U.S. who have children do not secure their guns and 73% of youngsters aged 9 and under know where their parents keep their guns.
Since 2002, the state has mandated that all guns sold in California have an accompanying trigger lock approved by the state Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms. Elliott said the ordinance is a "common-sense approach" to building on current state requirements.
The proposal's supporters and opponents gave public comment on the proposal for nearly two hours before the council's 6-2 vote. The measure's supporters included gun control advocacy groups like San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention and Never Again California as well as Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego.
Wendy Wheatcroft, founder of San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention, framed the ordinance as a way to keep military veterans, first responders and law enforcement officers from committing suicide in addition to keeping guns away from children. As of June 19, 97 police officers and 46 firefighters have killed themselves in the U.S. since the beginning of this year, according to Wheatcroft.
"We need to attack this from all angles, not just locking up firearms but also making sure they have adequate mental health support," Wheatcroft said. "But we also need to be reducing the means and the access to a firearm because in a moment of crisis, even having that gun locked up can be the difference between life and death."
The proposal's opponents said it infringes on their Second Amendment rights, particularly for gun owners who do not have children living with them. Under current state law, gun owners are required to keep firearms in a secure container or disabled with a device like a trigger lock only if they live with a person who cannot legally have a weapon under state or federal law.
Opponents also argued the proposal is unenforceable and that locking a gun in a safe would make it difficult to access and use in a moment of self- defense. Wendy Hauffen, executive administrator for the San Diego County Gun Owners political action committee, suggested breaking the law should be an infraction rather than a felony or misdemeanor.
"This will allow the storage conversation to be had, which is stated as one of the purposes for passing this regulation, while not filling jails full of violators," Hauffen said. "Criminalizing normal activity has the potential to ruin a lot of innocent lives and this is especially a concern in a city like San Diego, where we have so many residents such as active-duty military, who come from so many other states where this kind of law doesn't and would never exist."
According to Elliott, the San Diego Police Department will enforce the law by finding improperly stored guns in a home during a visit for another reason such as a domestic disturbance. Elliott compared the proposal to the state's 1986 law requiring drivers to wear a seatbelt; at that time, highway patrol officers could only cite drivers for not wearing a seatbelt during a traffic stop for another infraction.
City Councilwoman Jennifer Campbell, a longtime family physician, said she supported the ordinance due to the caliber of weapons currently available to the public and because guns are too easy for children to access in many homes.
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"We need to teach our children safety, we need to protect them from themselves," she said. "When they get emotionally upset, they may go find that gun, and they always know where they are."
City Councilwomen Vivian Moreno and Barbara Bry voted in favor of the bill at the June 5 meeting of the council's Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee, sending it to the full council without recommendation. City Councilman Chris Cate was the only member of the four-member committee to vote against the proposal, calling it unnecessary, overreaching and difficult to enforce.
Cate and City Councilman Scott Sherman voted against the ordinance Monday, with City Councilman Mark Kersey absent. The technically nonpartisan council's six Democrats -- including Campbell, Moreno and Bry -- all voted in favor. Sherman suggested the solution to curbing accidental gun deaths is gun safety education for children and young adults.
"In World War II, 90% of the kids going into the military were proficient in firearm use. Today, it's about 30," Sherman said. "Most of them have never touched a gun in their life or know the consequences of what a gun can do because nobody has taught them."
The vote is the first of two required for the ordinance to become law, allowing residents a second opportunity to comment on the proposal. The council did not indicate if it plans to hold the second vote prior to the beginning of its summer recess on Aug. 7.