By Khalida Sarwari
The Sunnyvale City Council this week started a conversation about raising the minimum age for purchasing certain firearms in the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where a 19-year-old armed with an AR-15 rifle killed 17 people.
Proposed by Mayor Glenn Hendricks, the ordinance would restrict gun shops and other retailers in Sunnyvale from selling semiautomatic centerfire rifles to anyone younger than 21. Only active-duty military and law enforcement personnel would be exempted, Hendricks said, because they’re required to pass “a different bar of training and research.”
Currently, anyone at least 18 years old can go into any of five gun retailers in Sunnyvale and buy a semiautomatic centerfire rifle. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, those retailers are BAXT Innovations, DGW Auctioneers, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Big 5 and U.S. Firearms Co.
Hendricks said California already has a 10-day waiting period for all firearm purchases, transfers and private sales. The state also enforces background checks for private sales. Both policies aren’t yet federally mandated.
Hendricks said he saw an opportunity in raising the minimum age because that’s something the state hasn’t addressed.
“If you take into account one of city government’s most important functions, it’s how to keep our public safe. One of the things that’s missing from state regulations is that an 18-year-old can purchase a semiautomatic rifle. Those are the ones that are being used in all the shootings that are taking place,” Hendricks said.
But Hendricks noted that while Sunnyvale is doing what it can, it’s really at the state and federal levels that real impact can be made.
“We want to go ahead and put an ordinance like this in place and hopefully it will be supplanted by state or federal regulations, but I’m not convinced that that will occur,” Hendricks said. “Until that happens, it would be important for us to do this at the city level.”
If Sunnyvale decides to implement the ordinance, it would be among the few municipalities in the country to enact such a measure, joining a trend to take further action led by retailers Dick’s Sporting Goods, L.L. Bean and Walmart. Hendricks said he isn’t aware of any neighboring cities that are considering a similar ordinance, but plans to bring it up with his colleagues at the Cities Association of Santa Clara County in the near future.
Hendricks brought his proposal before the Sunnyvale council at its March 6 meeting, where it was received with unanimous support from his colleagues as well as a handful of speakers, including former Mayor Tony Spitaleri.
“I’m very reluctant to pursue regulations that affect constitutional rights, even the ones that I’m not particularly fond of, and I think elected officials must tread lightly in such cases, with the answer usually being ‘no,’ ” said Councilman Jim Griffith. “But no responsible elected official can look at what happened in Parkland or Las Vegas or Sandy Hook and believe that the responsible course is to do nothing.
“There are too many elected officials in Florida who did just that and who are now scrambling to offer hollow and largely useless answers to the families of 17 victims right now. And I don’t want any of that to ever happen in Sunnyvale,” he added.
At some point, the ordinance will be brought back before the council and there will be numerous opportunities for the public to weigh in, Hendricks said.
“I would imagine that there will be some people that will disagree with this. How those ratios will play, we’ll see,” he said. “But I talk to people every day, the residents in our city, and of the majority of people I’ve spoken to, I don’t think they’ll have a particular concern about this. There will be some (that disagree), and I’ve spoken to them, but it will all right.”