Alameda became one of the first city’s in the East Bay to approve gun-safety ordinances that regulate safe storage of firearms in homes, and video surveillance of legal gun purchases at retail outlets and dealers.
Alameda elected officials unanimously approved the pair of ordinances on Tuesday night as a response to epidemic-level gun violence in the U.S. While instances of gun-related crime is relatively low in Alameda, officials believe the city must do its part to limit exposure to gun violence before it occurs on the island.
“If there’s a way to cut off the supply for bad people to get guns that were purchased legally, then, I’m all for it,” Alameda Councilmember Jim Oddie said. “We’re not trying to criminalize the legal possession of firearms. What we are trying to do is prevent those legal firearms from getting in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.”
Oddie, along with Councilmember John Knox White, in a council referral last November, urged for the city to be proactive in creating legislation to prevent gun violence in Alameda.
The city council’s unanimous support for the legislation was bolstered by Councilmember Tony Daysog, who is often the most conservative vote on the council. “I don’t think we went overboard with regard to people’s Second Amendment rights, but I think we did more than do nothing and sit on our hands,” he said.
Alameda’s ordinance requires owners of firearms to lock their guns in safes or outfit them with trigger locks. Administrative penalties would result for violators of the safe storage ordinance. A previous proposal that included criminal penalties was eliminated from the ordinance by councilmembers on Tuesday night.
However, the council kept a 24-hour safe harbor period for gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms to police without incurring any penalties. The provision is intended to encourage immediate reporting, which can often aid police in locating the firearm in a timely manner.
But officials acknowledged violations of the safe storage ordinance would only be known until after the firearm is reported lost or an investigation into a possible crime involving the gun is launched. “In all likelihood if a gun was not safely stored and an event occurred as a result of that, it would not be known to us until after the fact,” Alameda Police Chief Paul Rolleri said.
Alameda Police will also not be involved in regulating the safe storage ordinance. “We’re not going to be knocking on doors,” Rolleri assured the public and city council.
Safe Alameda, a community group that advocates for gun safety, had previously urged for the ordinance to require that firearms be stored unloaded. But doing so might set the ordinance up for a legal challenge, said Montague Hung, Alameda deputy city attorney. “An argument, I believe, could be made that if the firearm would be mandated to be locked and stored with a trigger lock, but also unloaded, it could significantly hinder what the court has found to be a Second Amendment right.”
Video surveillance of lawful gun purchases, under Alameda’s ordinance, will help thwart so-called “straw purchases” made by customers who then provide the firearm to individuals unauthorized by law enforcement to buy guns.
Alameda has just one gun dealer, Big 5 Sporting Goods, at the South Shore Center shopping mall.
Some councilmembers voiced criticism for the presence of firearms in stores, like Big 5, that are within the view of children. “I don’t know why if a 10-year-old goes in to Big Five to buy a baseball mitt that they should be exposed to a row of what looks like semi-automatic weapons,” Oddie said. In addition to Tuesday night’s vote, the council also made direction to city staff to study a suggestion by Daysog to potentially regulate the display of firearms in retail stores.
In addition, to video recording all gun transactions in stores, a provision in the originally proposed ordinance called for surveillance cameras to be pointed at the parking lots of retail stores. “I think it’s a bit of an overreach to videotape people in a parking lot who could be there for a lot of different reasons,” Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft said. The council agreed and removed the provision.