CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Greg Lucas, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.
Not So Cold, Not So Dead
”I’ll give you my gun when you take it from my cold, dead hands!” is a long-time rallying cry of gun owners that decorates countless bumper stickers and coffee mugs. The Democratic majority Legislature and maybe the Democratic governor – he’s silent on the issue so far – would rather do the prying now while there’s still a pulse. Without doubt, preparing for the most significant change in health care delivery since Medicare and Medicaid became law in 1965 is the biggest public policy challenge facing the Golden State in 2013. But lawmakers will want to talk more about guns. They already are. There have already been well-publicized press conferences , including one in Sacramento, with the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles touting the passage of more laws to prevent horrific incidents like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut last December, during in which 20 first graders were massacred. Whether more laws will prevent such incidents is debatable, but there is a defensible argument that the chances become slimmer by making it harder to possess weapons that reload rapidly and can swiftly spray larger numbers of bullets.
Of the 834 registered voters who responded to a Field Poll published February 26, 61 percent said it’s “more important to impose greater controls on gun ownership than protecting the rights of Americans to own guns,” while 34 percent said it wasn’t. Field says this is the highest margin of support for that idea in any of the other three polls on the subject since 1999. Not surprisingly, more Democrats like more gun control – 80 percent to 15 percent – while Republicans are less enamored – 31 percent “for” and 65 percent “against.” Overall, 69 percent of women backed stricter gun controls and 52 percent of men. One of the bills in the Senate package requiring a permit and training for purchasers of ammunition is backed – in concept – by 75 percent of voters responding to the survey. Outlawing magazines that can hold 10 or more rounds – another measure in the Senate package – is less strongly supported, 58 percent to 39 percent. Numbers for banning sales of semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines are nearly identical to support for nixing “mega magazines.” Not asked of poll respondents is what they thought about having to obtain a handgun certificate annually instead of every five years, as another of the bills in the Senate package would require. That bill appears to be the one that would touch the largest number of gun-owning Californians. So far, the bill, SB 683, doesn’t say what the added cost to gun owners might be of going through that process each year instead of every five.
It’s called the Field Poll, not because the pollsters are “in the field,” but because it was created by Mervin Field, a pioneer in the, ahem, field of political pulse taking. Since its creation in 1947, there have been more than 2,400 Field Polls on any number of topics. Field retired from day-to-day activities at Field Research in 2005. He turns 92 on March 11.
It’s not like the Legislature is focused solely on guns. Legislation relating to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is swiftly moving toward the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown. Introducing the measures in the special session called by the Democratic governor to address implementation of the act allows a certain amount of fast tracking. One of the bills would enact the ACA’s prohibition against denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. The bill, ABX2 (the “X” shows it’s a special session bill), does plenty more in its 100 pages and, absent some dramatic change in its contents, will be signed into law by Gov. Brown when it reaches his desk and take effect 90 days later.
This Just In
The Berkeley Forum for Improving California’s Healthcare Delivery System – according to the California Association of Health Plans, a “collaborative group of health plans, health care providers, academic leaders and public officials” – issued a report February 26 that says the state will save $110 billion over the next decade by reducing fee-for-service from 78 percent of all health care spending to 50 percent, and doubling from 29 percent to 60 percent the persons “receiving care via fully- or highly-integrated care systems.” The forum reaching this conclusion might stem in part from its principal members being Anthem, Blue Shield, Cedars-Sinai, Kaiser, Monarch, Sharp and Sutter Health. That said….
”In a typical day, Californians spend over $850 million on health care. In a typical year, 53 percent of the state’s health care expenditures are spent by just 5 percent of the population. By 2022, total employer-based insurance premiums for a family are projected to consume almost a third of median household income. Similarly, the share of the Gross State Product consumed by health care…is projected to rise from 15.4 percent in 2012 to nearly 17.1 percent in 2022,” reads the first paragraph of the forum’s report.
It’s nice to see that lawmakers don’t believe the only answer on gun control is adding more laws. One bill in the Senate package actually attempts to make an existing program deliver better. The Department of Justice’s Armed Prohibited Persons System was established in 2007. It examines various databanks to determine if persons who have purchased guns since 1996 might have become ineligible over the past 16 years to continue to own guns. Great idea. Except there wasn’t enough money or people last year to take away more than 2,000 of the 38,563 handguns and 1,647 assault weapons found to be in the hands of 19,770 Californians who the law says are now breaking the law by possessing them. The Senate is sending the Assembly a bill to beef up the program using $18 million of money collected by dealers who charge gun purchasers a state-imposed $25 fee. About 30 percent of those 19,770 people aren’t supposed to possess guns because of mental issues.
Don’t Waste Those Bullets
Comedian Chris Rock suggests that bullets should cost $5,000 each. That way, a gun owner who wanted to shoot someone might be deterred simply because of the expense of doing so. Conversely, the number of shots could easily establish the importance of a shooting victim. Five bullets – a $25,000 investment – would suggest a victim of greater stature than one with a solitary slug. An Assembly bill proposes a comparable although less costly idea: Imposing a 5-cent tax on the sale of every bullet. Although 1.2 billion bullets are purchased in California each year, a percentage come from out-of-state sellers, so the Board of Equalization estimates a 5-cent bullet tax would raise $49 million annually. The money would be earmarked for expansion of mental heath screenings for kindergarteners through third graders. That’s positive on a number of levels, but won’t necessarily reduce gun violence. Says Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg’s spokesman Rhys Williams pretty definitively: “Not every killer is mentally ill, and not every mentally ill person is a killer. The vast majority of people suffering mental illness do so in silence. They’ll never commit a crime, let alone commit mass murder.”