California bill criminalizing cops leaving unsecured guns in cars heads to Gov. Brown

Lawmakers on Wednesday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill sparked by two high-profile murders with guns stolen from law enforcement vehicles.

The legislation, filed in January, would remove current protections under state law that allows peace officers– including federal law enforcement officers, officers from other states in California on business and retired peace officers who are authorized to carry firearms– from the same regulations that require guns to be secured in vehicles when not in use under threat of a $1,000 fine. It passed the Senate 26-12 this week.

“Officers’ guns must be securely stored if they are left in vehicles,” said state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, sponsor of the legislation, in a previous statement. “This is a matter of basic public safety and common sense. My bill would ensure that the requirements for safe gun storage in vehicles are the same for everyone in California — law enforcement officers and civilians.”

Hill’s proposal, SB 869, would mandate that any person leaving a handgun in a vehicle must first secure it by either locking the firearm in the trunk or in a container placed out of view.

It would create a new crime with a punishment that would include fines of up to $1,000.

Hill’s legislation comes on the heels of two high-profile murders in California, both committed with guns stolen from the vehicles of federal agents.

The fatal shooting of Kathryn Steinle on San Francisco’s Pier 14 last July by suspect Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, a Mexican national with at least five deportations under his belt, allegedly occurred with a Sig Sauer handgun stolen from the vehicle of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management ranger that was left loaded and unsecured on the seat.

Steinle’s family are currently perusing claims for damages from the BLM, San Francisco Sheriff’s Department and U.S. Department of Homeland Security, claiming the ranger’s weapon was left loaded and in plain view in his car.

This was compounded with the news last November that the pistol used in the fatal shooting of an artist in the San Francisco area was stolen from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent. That gun, a 9mm Glock 26, was stolen from the car of a federal agent in the area just two weeks before the shooting. The family of the muralist, Antonio Ramos, is likewise involved in litigation against the government over the firearm’s storage, or lack thereof.

On the national level, a California lawmaker is seeking much the same storage requirement for federal law enforcement as a whole.

“Locking a firearm when it is not in use should be a no-brainer,” said U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Calif., who is sponsoring a bill in Congress that would establish guidelines for federal officers and agents to secure their weapons against theft and loss. “Yet, there are almost 80 federal law enforcement agencies and none are required to have standards for officers to safely store and lock their guns when they are not in use.”

A 2010 report from Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General that found 179 of the 243 firearms — or 74 percent — lost between 2006 and 2008 were lost due to failure of the agent to properly secure the weapon, and according to the OIG, “all 179 losses may have been prevented had the officers properly safeguarded their firearms.”

As for Gov. Brown, his office has not commented on whether he will sign the legislation headed to his desk.