Gun ordinance passed by Council in 4-1 vote

Councilmember Rene Spring voted against

At an Oct. 24 meeting, the Morgan Hill City Council passed a gun ordinance that has been in the works since March of 2018. The three-part ordinance made additions to the existing local weapons ordinance that was put in place in the 1970s.

The meeting lasted nearly five hours in a room full mostly of gun rights advocates, with a few supporters of the ordinance throughout the crowd.

Councilmember Rene Spring had been a part of the unanimous decision to ask City Attorney Donald Larkin to create an ordinance that would place greater regulation on firearms in Morgan Hill. Spring was also present at two previous smaller breakout sessions where a proposed ordinance was discussed with members of the community.

However, Spring was the only councilmember to vote against the city’s proposed new gun guidelines at the Oct. 24 meeting. He said he could no longer support the ordinance because it contained language that was too confusing and difficult to understand, and it was no longer serving the purpose of protecting the community.

“The more I listened, the more I thought, We’re losing our goal here,” said Spring. “We’re heading off in the wrong direction, not achieving anymore what we’re intended to.”

The ordinance requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of the discovery to the Morgan Hill Police Department. It will also require the safe storage of firearms, with a further definition of a lock container to come back to the council in the coming weeks. The final piece of the ordinance is a ban on high-capacity magazines, meaning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

The magazine ban was a topic of debate among councilmembers. California law prohibits the sale or ownership of magazines exceeding 10 rounds, unless owned before Jan. 1, 2000. The city’s ordinance would differ because it would ban all high-magazines over 10 rounds, without grandfathering in any exceptions.

After a recommendation from a constituent, the council decided to adopt an amendment to this portion of the proposed ordinance. Thus the ordinance now prohibits the ownership or sale of any high-capacity magazines, unless they were sold with the firearm before the Jan. 1, 2000 cutoff. This means if a resident purchased a “glock-12,” a firearm that comes with a 12 capacity magazine, before the cutoff, they are allowed to own that firearm under the new local ordinance.

Larkin drafted and presented the ordinance to the council with Morgan Hill Police Chief David Swing present to answer additional questions. Larkin said at the beginning of his presentation, “I want to acknowledge up front that this is an emotional topic for people on all sides.”

Following Larkin’s presentation and several questions from the councilmembers, the public comment session began. Those in attendance were asked not to applaud, but instead raise their right hands if they agreed with the words of a councilmember or member of the public. Mayor Steve Tate also asked that commenters only speak on points that had not already been brought up.

Before the ordinance was brought before the council, it had been sent out to the public and posted on the city website allowing for public comment.

Prior to the meeting, many members of the public had expressed concern over the original weapons ordinance. Despite being nearly 50 years old, residents felt the language was vague and may prohibit the firing of Nerf guns, nail guns, marshmallow guns or similar devices.

The original weapons ordinance prohibits the shooting of a gun, “or any projectile weapon within the city limits without a permit.”

Larkin lamented during the presentation that this does not include devices sold  as children’s toys, construction tools or other items not designed as weapons. “Nobody has ever been prosecuted for shooting a Nerf gun,”Larkin said during the meeting. “Nobody ever will.”

He went on to say, “I will give you a 100 percent guarantee that I will never prosecute somebody for shooting a nerf gun in violation of this ordinance.”

His clarification did not deter the group of gun owners present at the meeting from voicing their varying concerns during public comment. Many felt the ordinance crossed the line and impeded on their Second Amendment rights while simultaneously not sufficiently effective in stopping any gun-related tragedies.

Trevor Bacolini, the Morgan Hill resident who proposed the amendment to the high capacity magazine portion of the city’s proposal, spoke about his problems with the ordinance.

“This is an emotional issue, because this is a constitutional issue,” Bacolini said.

He said the ordinance was unnecessarily dividing the community.

Councilmember Caitlin Jachimowicz voiced her support of the mandatory storage portion of the ordinance. She explained her own history with firearms, with several family members who are gun owners.

“I shouldn’t have to clarify my comments with those statements, but we have such an us versus them mentality around this issue that I feel the need to tell you that I respect you,” said Jachimowicz. “That I’m not trying to turn anyone into a criminal or take away guns from law abiding citizens.”

Mayor Tate, Councilmembers Larry Carr, Rich Constantine and Jachimowicz all voted in favor of the ordinance. However, their votes came with the agreement that Larkin would come back with an amendment to address the storage of antique firearms on display, a locked container definition and definitions that will help clarify the original ordinance.

While some speakers questioned what the purpose of the ordinance was, Tate said it was to make Morgan Hill a safer place. “We’re looking for any way we can to implement things that make our community safer.”
The full video of the meeting can be found at http://morganhillca.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx along with Larkin’s presentation of the ordinance.

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