What You Need to Know About California’s Big Gun Ballot Initiative

The gun lobby is throwing its weight against Proposition 63.


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“As a six-time Olympic medalist, I know it takes hard work to achieve success. For me, it also takes over 800 rounds of ammunition daily,” says Olympic shooter Kim Rhode in the second installment in a series of web ads opposing Proposition 63, a ballot initiative sponsored by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom that would require background checks for buying ammunition and outlaw magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. It would not limit the quantity of ammunition people can buy. “If Gavin Newsom has his way, it’ll make it incredibly hard to keep up my skills,” says Rhode.

Those ammo regulations are just part of Prop 63, a sweeping measure that’s drawing ire from gun-rights groups and praise from firearm safety advocates. Here’s a look at what it would do, who’s behind it, and its chances of passing.


What would Prop 63 do?

Known as the Safety For All Initiative, Proposition 63 would implement a raft of new gun laws. It would outlaw the possession of high-capacity magazines, create a system for confiscating guns from felons who are prohibited from owning them, elevate all gun thefts to felonies, and require people and businesses to report lost or stolen guns. It also would prohibit anyone who has stolen a gun from owning one again. But what’s most contentious about the measure is that it would require background checks for ammunition purchases and would require anyone who wants to buy ammo to obtain a four-year permit from the California Department of Justice.

Proponents of the law say it will tighten existing gun control laws and will close, as Newsom puts it, “all kinds of loopholes.” Dan Newmon, a campaign strategist for the Democratic lieutenant governor, told Poltifact, “Treating ammo sales like guns and screening for dangerous mental illness, taking guns away from people legally prohibited from owning weapons, reporting lost and stolen guns and ammo—these will all reduce gun violence of all kinds, from suicide to mass murder.”

Opponents also contend that the measure won’t do anything to stem mass shootings or other gun crimes, while burdening law-abiding gun owners. The website StopNewsom.com calls the lieutenant governor’s “gun control agenda” “insane” and says that it will “destroy lives.” Prop 63’s opponents argue that it duplicates new gun laws that were signed in July by Gov. Jerry Brown, including the outlawing of large capacity magazines and a mandate that ammunition buyers pass a background check. It also calls for the creation of a new multi-million-dollar database for those who apply to buy ammo, despite the current law already using an existing one. (Prop 63’s text was set in December 2015, well before the governor signed the new laws.)

StopNewsom.com also states that the measure will “criminalize” the sharing of bullets. (Politifact rated that statement as “mostly false,” noting that it would only be illegal to share bullets with someone whom the person providing the ammo should know is banned from possessing ammunition.) Other Prop 63 opponents have raised concerns that they will no longer be able to purchase ammunition online. This is also not quite true. The new measure allows online purchases, but the ammo would have to be picked up from a licensed dealer rather than shipped to an individual’s home.


Who is for Prop 63?

Unsurprisingly, support for the measure backed by the state’s number-two Democrat largely falls along party lines. Proponents include the California Democratic Party, the California Young Democrats, and scores of officials across the state. It also boasts support from human rights organizations including Amnesty International. The California Medical Association, the California American College of Physicians, the California American Academy of Preventative Medicine, and other medical organizations have also voiced support. So far, the Yes side has outspent its opponents; it’s raised more than $4.2 million and spent $3.7 million.


Who is against Prop 63?

The Coalition for Civil Liberties has made three 35-second ads against the initiative, including the one with Rhode (below). The Coalition is a campaign committee formed by the National Rifle Association’s official state affiliate, the California Rifle and Pistol Association. The NRA has donated $45,000 to oppose the measure. In total, the opposition has raised nearly $500,000, according to Ballotpedia. The No side also claims the California Republican Party, the California Libertarian Party, several law enforcement associations, and a collection of gun rights organizations. Last week, the California Police Chief’s Association voiced its opposition, saying that the initiative “fails to meet the appropriate balance between public safety and individual gun rights,” adding that while the current law exempts police officers, “Proposition 63 reverses many of the exemptions that allow officers and police departments to continue purchasing ammunition freely for on-duty purposes.”

Will it pass?

Right now, Prop 63 has a good shot of passing. Polls from Survey USA, the Los Angeles Times, and California Counts have found that an overwhelmingly majority of California voters support the measure. If that’s the case, get ready for a legal challenge.

This article has been updated.


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