I don't like this. You don't need a test to excersise a constitutional right. How about instead of taking a test to own a handgun you have to take a test to get pregnant to prove you know how to raise children or are going to be a fit parent? Hey how about a test to prove you are in this country legally before you get anything?
Handgun tests now required
Two-part exam at the gun shop can lead to certification necessary to make a purchase.
By Jim Sanders -- Bee Capitol Bureau
Published 2:15 am PST Wednesday, January 1, 2003
Californians will be barred from buying handguns until they prove they can handle and operate them safely.
A new state law, effective today, will require buyers to pass a 30-question written test and a proficiency demonstration.
The program has increased fees for purchasing a gun from $35 to $45 -- with half the hike imposed a year ago and the remainder this month.
Legislation authorizing the program, SB 52 and AB 35, was signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001. Officials were given one year to iron out details, buy equipment and train gun dealers.
State Sen. Jack Scott, D-Altadena, said the state routinely tests drivers for proficiency and should do the same with handgun buyers.
"We have to do something," said Scott, author of SB 52. "We just can't continue the proliferation of guns in our society without the proper kind of training."
But critics claim the new law is unnecessary, unwelcome and will increase the time, cost and hassle of buying a handgun.
"Most people have common sense -- if they're purchasing a firearm, they've put a little time and thought into what that means," said Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California. "They don't need the government to tell them to do this or prove that."
The new law does not alter the state's 10-day waiting period for buying a gun or the requirement for criminal background checks.
Until now, adults with clean criminal records could purchase a handgun if they passed a written test, took a safety course or merely watched a videotape about gun handling.
Former Assemblyman Kevin Shelley, a San Francisco Democrat who wrote AB 35, ridiculed the former process as one of "grab a Coke, grab some popcorn, watch a video, get a gun."
Beginning today, watching a video won't be good enough.
Handgun buyers will be required to obtain a handgun safety certificate, which will be valid for five years and need not be renewed unless additional handguns are purchased.
To obtain the certificate, buyers must demonstrate competency by passing a written test and safe-handling demonstration, both of which can be completed at the gun shop.
Questions on the written test can cover issues ranging from permissible use of lethal force to legal responsibilities of owning, carrying, handling, storing or selling a firearm.
In the hands-on demonstration, handgun buyers will be asked to prove that they can install trigger locks, clear a gun's chamber, load and unload the weapon, and handle it safely.
Authorized gun dealers will provide on-the-spot training, if necessary, before buyers attempt the demonstration. Such training generally takes only a few minutes, officials said.
Buyers also must submit a thumbprint, valid identification -- a driver's license or state identification card -- and proof of California residency, such as a utility or property tax bill.
Exceptions are provided for peace officers, weapons safety instructors, owners of concealed firearm permits, antique gun collectors and active or honorably retired members of the military.
The new law provides for legal sanctions -- including loss of license and imprisonment -- for dealers who do not comply with the testing requirements.
Randy Rossi, head of the attorney general's firearms division, said the thumbprint requirement will aid in the prosecution of people who use fake identification to buy handguns. But the thrust of the new law is public safety, not law enforcement, he said.
"It's one thing to say, 'Yeah, yeah, I know how to operate this gun,' " Rossi said. "It's another thing to prove it."
Firearms caused 3,092 deaths and 4,042 hospitalizations in California during 2000, the most recent year for which statistics are available from the state health department. Ninety-six percent of the fatalities and 78 percent of the injuries were homicides or suicides.
Northern California gun owners or enthusiasts have mixed views about mandatory testing of firearms knowledge.
"I think it's a reasonable safety measure," said Edward Killmer, 63, of Roseville, who no longer has guns of his own. "If you know what you're doing, the test wouldn't take long."
"It's OK with me," added Ann Root, a Sacramento-area gun owner.
But David Fowler, 55, of Petaluma said the new law is typical of governmental "chipping away" at ownership rights. It should be aimed at novice buyers and specifically exclude licensed hunters and longtime gun owners, he said.
"I've had handguns all my life," Fowler said. "I don't see why I should go through a proficiency test."
Luis Tolley, state spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said the safe-handling demonstration will ensure that buyers understand how to use locking devices that the state recently began requiring for each handgun sold.
"Those locks come in boxes, and chances are, many of them aren't getting put on the guns," Tolley said. "(The new law) will make sure that when people buy a gun, they not only pass a test to make sure they understand their responsibilities, they also get trained in how to use the locking device."
Two other states -- Hawaii and Rhode Island -- currently require handgun buyers to pass a written test and hands-on demonstration, Tolley said.
Legal handgun sales in California have plummeted for much of the past decade, from a high of 433,822 in 1993 to 123,259 in 2001. Sales spiked upward in 2002 -- to 151,024 through Dec. 11 -- in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.
Gerald Upholt, spokesman for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said he doubts the new law will have much impact on public safety.
"People who are inherently careless aren't going to stop being careless because they answered a 30-question test and showed they know how to handle a gun," he said.
"We feel this is not a government function," Upholt said of SB 52. "People should seek out training themselves. Government can't be the mom and dad for everybody. At some point, people should take responsibility for themselves."
Paredes, of Gun Owners of California, said he suspects the new law is part of a larger, long-term strategy by gun opponents.
"No matter what they say publicly, their real intent is to reduce the number of firearms in circulation," Paredes said. "They have this emotional, unrealistic fear that guns, all by themselves, are a danger to society. In reality, guns are a very important tool in making society safe."
Scott, whose 27-year-old son was killed nine years ago in a shotgun accident, said the new law targets only irresponsible ownership.
"This bill was not designed to keep people from buying guns," he said. "It was designed as a safety measure to make sure that people who purchase guns know how to use them."
Chris Fulster, owner of Broadway Bait, Rod and Gun in Sacramento, said he does not oppose giving on-the-spot training. Quality gun shops routinely cater to customers' needs, he said.
"I don't think it hurts," he said of the new law. "We do it anyway. Stores aren't going to sell a pistol to someone who doesn't understand it. We're here to help."