By Guy Marzorati
Tony Spitaleri, the mayor of Silicon Valley suburb Sunnyvale, had grown tired of national and state inaction on gun control. Fearing the possibility of a Newtown-type shooting rocking the quiet community of 140,000, he introduced a series of measures he believed could curb the possibility of both accidental shootings and larger-scale violence in the city.
After trimming down the proposed items, the city council voted in June to place Measure C on the November ballot, which Sunnyvale voters will vote on next Tuesday. Measure C includes four separate gun control provisions:
- Reporting lost or stolen firearms: The police must be notified about the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours of the time known or “reasonably should have known” about the loss.
- Storage: Firearms in residences would have to be stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock if they are not in the immediate possession of the owner.
- Ammunition: Prohibits the possession of ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds (not just the buying or selling which is already outlawed statewide).
- Logging ammo sales: Mandates the logging of all ammunition sales within Sunnyvale.
Four measures similar to these passed the State Senate in Sacramento this year, but none eventually became law. The looming question over the Measure C debate is whether the initiative addresses a problem of gun violence that simply doesn’t exist in Sunnyvale; the city had only two gunshot deaths in 2012.
The mayor says those focused on crime are missing the point of Measure C. “This is not about reducing crime,” he explained. “It’s about having a safe environment where your guns are and having a safe way of doing business with a gun.”
Spitaleri has led Sunnyvale Citizens for Sensible Gun Measures, the pro-Measure C group which has received contributions from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition. The group has faced little local competition thus far.
Steve Sarette, a member of Sunnyvale Citizens for a Better Community, the group opposing Measure C, estimates his group has spent only $300 to oppose Measure C. “There aren’t very many of us,” he said. “In terms of outreach to the community, we’ve handed out some fliers and that’s it.”
Measure C’s greatest challenge will come if it passes. The National Rifle Association has promised to challenge the initiative in court, in particular the provision prohibiting possession of larger-capacity magazines. Opponents of the measure believe that Sunnyvale is acting as a pawn of Mayor Bloomberg, and that the city will face the same kind of legal battles the NRA has waged against larger cities.
“Is it really Sunnyvale’s fight to adopt this package of ordinances?” asked Sean Brady, an attorney with Michel & Associates, West Coast counsel for the NRA. “Are they willing to pay the cost to be in the big leagues with Chicago and Washington D.C. on this litigation front?”
Spitaleri seems unafraid of facing off against the powerful gun lobby. His term expires at the end of this year, and he plans to spend his time out of office trying to push for gun control measures in other cities, beginning with neighboring Mountain View in 2014.
He likens his local gun control effort to the plastic bag ban that started in San Jose in 2009 and subsequently spread across the South Bay.
“If it starts at the local level, it will resonate up. [The plastic bag ban] started in one city and then it went to another city, and another city. It’s got to start somewhere.”