Between October 1 and December 31, 2021, Californians who own assault weapons — according to a revised definition — must register their firearms with the California Department of Justice. Senate Bill 118, passed in August 2020, expanded the legal definition of assault weapons to now include firearms possessing any one of several listed attributes, such as a fixed magazine that can accept more than 10 rounds and an overall firearm length of less than 30 inches.
Implementation of SB 118 comes after several court rulings made by federal Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego that curtailed California’s existing gun safety laws, including one in June 2021 in which he compared an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife. Later that month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals blocked the ruling pending appeal proceedings, allowing implementation of the new law to proceed.
Toni Wellen, chair emeritus of the Santa Barbara Coalition Against Gun Violence, said these court battles did much to mobilize gun safety advocates around SB 118. “California gun legislation has set the standard for the nation,” she added. “Right now, any lawsuit against [SB 118] will be difficult due to the Ninth Circuit’s decision.”
There were 2,202 homicides in California last year, with nearly three-quarters of these cases involving a firearm. Wellen emphasized that even those statistics do not account for the full picture of gun violence, as 60 percent of firearm deaths nationally are suicides. “It’s a terrible reflection on society when parents of slain children go to Washington only to be dismissed,” she said, referring to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Monique Limón was an assemblymember when she voted to pass SB 118; she’s now Santa Barbara’s state senator, a seat held by Hannah-Beth Jackson in 2020, when Jackson also voted for SB 118. Senator Limón said she supported the bill because “it prevents gun manufacturers from developing and selling these dangerous assault weapons in our state.”
SB 118 is one of several recent initiatives aimed toward curbing gun violence. This year, Senator Limón and Assemblymember Steve Bennett supported AB 1057, which expanded the Gun Violence Restraining Order, allowing people to work with courts to temporarily remove guns from high-risk individuals. Senator Limón’s office also highlighted funding made available in this year’s budget for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program.