Gavin Newsom draws crowd to gun-control speech near Rohnert Park

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Gavin Newsom had a confession to make. California’s lieutenant governor doesn’t carry a driver’s license, he told about 200 people gathered Friday night at the Graton casino.

The subtle luxury that comes with being the second-highest politician in the state turned into a liability when Newsom walked into a drugstore and tried to buy Sudafed cold medicine.

The store wouldn’t sell it to him, citing state drug laws requiring identification for such a purchase.

“But interestingly, you can buy ammunition anywhere,” the former San Francisco mayor told gun control supporters Friday night.

Unlike those purchasing over-the-counter medicine in California, people who buy bullets are not required to show identification, creating what Newsom says is a huge potential for gun violence. And surprisingly, he said, ammunition sellers also aren’t required to be licensed.

The 2018 gubernatorial candidate told the crowd it’s one of the things he’d like to change if he is elected to office. He described tighter regulation of bullets a “game changer” as the state attempts to stop continued mass shootings.

“It seems to me the most dangerous part of the weapon is not the weapon itself,” Newsom said. “It’s the ammunition.”

His comments — which included a jab at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump — were met with warm applause by members of the Sonoma County Brady Campaign chapter, which organized the event. Also in the audience were gun violence victims and a gathering of elected officials, including Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, the head of the House gun violence prevention task force.

Newsom is making guns a top campaign issue in a state most believe leads the nation in passing tough firearms laws. Other potential Democratic candidates include billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and state Treasurer John Chiang.

“Guns will persist,” said Dave McCuan, a Sonoma State University political science professor who attended the event. “They are a good get-out-the-vote tool.”

Newsom, 48, who championed same-sex marriage as San Francisco’s mayor, said California can do better at protecting people who should not have guns.

“I thought we have been doing more than we have been doing,” he said.

Despite an existing background checks law on the books, Newsom said the state is lagging in a dozen areas. He picked out five he wants to change as part of his “Safety for All” initiative.

For one, he said, the state must require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms. It’s required in 11 other states but has been vetoed in California.

“We think we should close that loophole,” Newsom said.

The lieutenant governor also wants to make it illegal to sell high-capacity magazines that hold more than 11 bullets. Currently, they are banned in a patchwork of cities including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oakland.

He said the magazines are “disproportionately responsible for mayhem.”

Newsom said he wants the state to share information about people prohibited from owning guns with a national FBI database and increase enforcement to make sure convicted felons don’t possess firearms.

Finally, Newsom is calling for licensing of ammunition sellers and point-of-sale background checks for purchasers. Convicted felons, people who commit violent misdemeanors, have a restraining order or those who have been declared dangerously mentally ill no longer will be able to buy ammunition.

California would be the first state to require background checks at point of sale.

Newsom said Sacramento tracked ammunition purchases over a year and found bullets were sold to 156 people who were not allowed to have guns. Police investigated and found 84 guns possessed by felons, Newsom said.

“Imagine if we did that at the state level,” Newsom said.

He said California has a chance to be on the vanguard just as it was with marriage equality.

“What makes this state great … and we don’t have to be great again,” he said in a reference to a Trump campaign slogan that drew applause. “… is that at our best, we don’t tolerate diversity. We celebrate it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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