SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers promised Tuesday to move cautiously as they consider tighter restrictions on handguns, assault rifles and ammunition purchases, proposals that would add to state regulations already among the toughest in the nation.
The chairmen of the Assembly and Senate public safety committees said during a joint legislative hearing that lawmakers will seek consensus as they look for ways to improve gun safety after recent mass shootings, particularly the Newtown, Conn., school massacre.
Proposed legislation includes taxing ammunition sales, outlawing possession of various weapons, and banning devises that allow rapid reloading.
"If there are legislative remedies, we want it to be effective and not divisive," said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, chairman of the Assembly committee.
The hearing came after New York approved the nation's toughest gun controls earlier this month by tightening an existing ban on assault-style rifles and prohibiting large-capacity ammunition magazines, among other changes.
California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said the hearing was designed to set aside some of the emotion and get to the facts on gun violence and what reasonably can be done to improve public safety.
Yet Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, chairwoman of the Senate Public Safety Committee, said that because of the recent mass shootings, "we reached a tipping point in the country" on the need for more firearm restrictions.
"In California, it brought back memories for us of 24 years ago at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton," she said.
Five children were killed and 30 wounded in 1989 at the school by Patrick Purdy in an attack that stands as a grim foreshadowing of other schoolyard shootings. Purdy fired more than 100 rounds from an AK-47-style assault rifle, leading California to adopt the nation's first limits on assault weapons.
Lawmakers watched a documentary on Tuesday about the Stockton shooting and heard testimony from former state Senate leaders who struggled to pass and tighten assault weapons restrictions in its wake.
They also listened as law enforcement officials, victims of gun violence, and gun-rights lobbyists sparred over the need for more regulations.
Republican members of the committees said lawmakers should focus on mentally ill people, felons and others who own weapons in violation of existing laws.
They proposed devoting more money to erase a nearly 20,000-person backlog in a state Department of Justice program that confiscates firearms from individuals who bought them legally but were later convicted of a crime, treated for mental illness or subjected to domestic violence court orders.
Steinberg supported a proposal to spend $25 million to hire more Department of Justice agents to quickly reduce the backlog.
Republicans also objected that Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's prisoner realignment law is putting more dangerous criminals in communities. The 15-month-old law sends only the most serious offenders to state prisons.
Ex-felons possessing weapons should be subjected to greater penalties and supervision as one way of reducing the danger, the GOP lawmakers said, a proposal that won support from Stephen Lindley, chief of the Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms.