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Political Notes; California LGBTQ legislative contests take shape

Ten months before voters cast ballots in next year’s June primary a number of contests with LGBTQ office-seekers are already taking shape.

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Bay Area out legislative candidates for 2022 include, from left, incumbent Assemblyman Evan Low, newcomer Jennifer Esteen, and incumbent Assemblyman Alex Lee. Photos: Low, courtesy CA Assembly; Esteen and Lee, courtesy campaign sites

By Matthew S. Bajko | SAN FRANCISCO – Ten months before California voters will cast ballots in next year’s June primary to determine which candidates will compete in November for legislative seats across the state, a number of contests with LGBTQ office-seekers are already taking shape.

In the Bay Area freshman bisexual Assemblyman Alex Lee (D-San Jose) finds himself having to fend off the person he succeeded, as Kansen Chu now wants to reclaim the 25th Assembly District seat that straddles Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Chu opted not to seek reelection last year and instead unsuccessfully sought a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors.

Earlier this month Chu, 68, told San José Spotlight that he felt the 26-year-old Lee lacked leadership and life experience and faulted him for never holding “a steady job. And I haven’t seen much leadership in addressing quality of life.”

Lee, the first bisexual person elected to the state Legislature, is a Democratic socialist and one of the most progressive state legislators. He shot back to the news site that “it’s unfortunate that (Chu) cannot let go — especially after community groups told him to resign after last year’s racist comments.”

He was referring to Chu’s comments disparaging Latino parents as not being interested in their children’s education, leading to calls that he resign early from the Assembly. Lee could be vulnerable next year, as he has seen several of his more progressive pieces of legislation, such as universal health care and creation of a wealth tax, go nowhere in Sacramento leading to unflattering news coverage, with one article making a point to highlight that he lives with his mom.

But Lee proved last year that he is a scrappy candidate and has established himself as a standard-bearer for the left wing of the Democratic Party. And he is willing to take a punch at his opponents and other lawmakers; as he told San José Spotlight, “In eight months in the Assembly, we’ve done more than Chu has in his six years. And we’re just getting started.”

Nurse Jennifer Esteen, a gay, masculine of center woman, last week officially announced her bid for the East Bay’s 20th Assembly District seat, currently held by Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward). A former psychiatric nurse in the San Francisco General Hospital Psychiatric Emergency Room, Esteen is now vice president of organizing for Service Employees International Union Local 1021.

The Democrat has called the East Bay home for nearly two decades, and as the daughter of a Black mom and a Jewish dad, would be the first out Black member of the Legislative LGBTQ Caucus if elected.

“As a nurse, working mother, and community leader who was once a single mom on the brink of being unhoused, I know firsthand that our community does not have the representation it deserves in Sacramento,” stated Esteen in announcing her candidacy. “I will fight to ensure that wealthy special interests pay their fair share and redistribute those funds into housing, healthcare, and education so all Californians can have what we need to thrive.”

Due to redistricting Quirk, who lives with his wife in a retirement community in Union City, could find himself drawn out of his Assembly seat. It currently includes Castro Valley, Fremont, Hayward, San Lorenzo, Sunol, Union City, and Ashland, where Esteen lives with her wife and children.

Under the state’s term limits rules Quirk, who has nearly $200,000 in his campaign account, can seek one more two-year term in the Assembly. With his district potentially in flux, it is drawing interest from Alameda County leaders looking to move up to Sacramento. Democratic Fremont City Councilwoman Teresa Keng has also pulled papers to seek the 20th Assembly District seat.

The only other declared out legislative candidate in the Bay Area is gay Assemblyman Evan Low (D-Campbell), currently chair of the eight-person affinity group for out state lawmakers. He is seeking a fifth term representing the 28th Assembly District in Silicon Valley.

Gay former San Francisco supervisor David Campos could join the list should Mayor London Breed tap Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) as the next city attorney. He is widely believed to be her choice to succeed City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whom she named to lead the troubled San Francisco Public Utilities Commission as its general manager.

As the B.A.R.’s Political Notebook reported last week, Campos has formed an exploratory committee for a possible bid for Chiu’s 17th Assembly District covering San Francisco’s eastern neighborhoods. He had lost to Chiu in their 2014 race for the Assembly seat and will not run against Chiu should he stand for reelection next year.

There also is the possibility of seeing social justice attorney Janani Ramachandran, who is queer and lesbian, among the out legislative candidates next year. The Oakland resident is considered the underdog in Tuesday’s special election for the East Bay’s 18th Assembly District.

The odds-on favorite to win the seat is Alameda Unified School Board president Mia Bonta, who would succeed her husband, Rob Bonta. He resigned earlier this year after Governor Gavin Newsom named him as California’s attorney general, following the resignation of Xavier Becerra to become Health and Human Services secretary in the Biden administration.

Mia Bonta has attracted endorsements from most Democratic Party leaders in the race and is the beneficiary of hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to her own campaign and that of independent expenditures on her behalf. Yet Ramachandran has proved to be a tough opponent as a first-time candidate for elective office, similar to that of Lee, who has endorsed her in the contest.

As Bonta will need to run next year for a full two-year term if she is elected this week, Ramachandran could opt to continue her candidacy into the new year, especially if she loses to Bonta by a narrow margin in their August 31 runoff race.

Southern California races


The rest of the known out legislative contenders in 2020 all reside in Southern California. Incumbent out parents lesbian Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes (D-Corona) and gay Assemblyman Chris Ward (D-San Diego) are both seeking reelection.

Cervantes, the mother of triplets with her wife, is seeking a fourth term representing the 60th Assembly District in Riverside County. Ward, who has two children with his husband, is seeking a second term in his 78th Assembly District seat.

Gay father Rick Chavez Zbur is running for the open 50th Assembly District seat in Los Angeles County. The outgoing executive director of statewide LGBTQ advocacy organization Equality California has secured endorsements from a host of Democratic officials since entering the race this spring. Last year, Zbur had launched a bid to become Los Angeles city attorney but then pivoted after Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) announced he wouldn’t run for reelection in order to succeed lesbian Los Angeles Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, as she decided not to run for a third term on the county board.

As currently configured Bloom’s Assembly district covers the communities of Agoura Hills, Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Hollywood, Malibu, Pacific Palisades, Santa Monica, Topanga, West Hollywood, and West Los Angeles. With Zbur locking up the bulk of his party’s support, the only other person to seek the seat to date is cardiologist Dr. Sion Roy, who lives with his wife and their son in Santa Monica. The progressive Democrat serves on the Santa Monica College Board of Trustees.

Gay Chula Vista City Councilman Steve Padilla, a Democrat and former police detective who has a daughter he fathered with his former wife, is running for the 40th Senate District seat. If elected, he would be the first out male state senator from the San Diego region. The incumbent, Senator Ben Huseo (D-San Diego), is termed limited from running again next year.

EQCA has already early endorsed both Zbur and Padilla.

Bisexual Democratic Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege is aiming to unseat independent Assemblyman Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage) in the 42nd Assembly District. She already has endorsements from the California Legislative LGBTQ Caucus and the national LGBTQ Victory Fund in her race against Mayes. He left the Republican Party last year when he filed to run for reelection and secured EQCA’s endorsement in his 2020 race.

“LGBTQ Victory Fund is committed to protecting vulnerable communities & electing strong leaders — I’m proud to have them in my corner as we fight for a more inclusive, fair, & just region,” tweeted Holstege after securing its backing of her candidacy.

The Victory Fund also early endorsed gay San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District Board President Thomas Wong, who is aiming to become the first person of Burmese heritage elected to a state legislature anywhere in the country. The child of immigrants from Taiwan and Myanmar (Burma) has pulled papers to seek the 49th Assembly District seat.

But Wong, an environmental policy advocate for Southern California Edison who lives in Monterey Park with his partner, Travis, will only run if it is an open seat. The incumbent, Assemblyman Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park), isn’t termed out of office until 2024. But CalMatters reported earlier this year that the lawmaker is seeking a judicial appointment to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, so should Governor Gavin Newsom tap him for a vacancy on the bench it would clear the way for Wong to run next year.

With it exceedingly rare for an incumbent member of the state Legislature to be defeated at the ballot box, most candidates wait until a seat opens up to run. Under the state’s term limit rules, the winners can serve for up to 12 years and normally face little opposition when they seek reelection.

None of the LGBTQ caucus’ four senators will be on next year’s ballot, as gay Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) and John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) aren’t up for reelection to four-year terms until 2024. Lesbian Senators Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) will term out of office in 2024.

It is expected that the race to succeed Atkins will draw an LGBTQ candidate with a serious chance of winning, but it is less certain that Eggman will be succeeded by an out senator.

 Matthew S. Bajko is the Assistant Editor of The Bay Area Reporter

The preceding article was previously published by the Bay Area Reporter and is republished by permission.

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California Politics

Out candidate for California’s 41st Congressional seat; Dems best hope

First-time candidate is aiming to unseat an Republican incumbent who has represented the region in the House for the last three decades

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Bob Blake (L) Palm Springs Mayor Lisa Middleton (C) with Will Rollins (R) at a recent campaign event (Photo courtesy of the Rollins campaign)

PALM SPRINGS – Approaching a midterm election season widely expected to favor Republicans to make gains in the Congress, national Democrats are attempting to preserve their narrow majorities on Capitol Hill.

Nestled in the Coachella Valley, they see California’s newly drawn 41st Congressional District and progressive Democratic candidate Will Rollins as one of their best shots at doing so.

Rollins, a first-time candidate for elected federal office, is aiming to unseat Republican incumbent Ken Calvert, who has represented the region in the U.S. House of Representatives for the last three decades.

A former federal prosecutor who focused on counterterrorism and counterintelligence cases in Southern California, Rollins has crafted a campaign platform centered around ousting government corruption and partisan rhetoric he sees as the roots of both harmful and destabilizing conspiracy theories, as well as supporting his opponent Calvert’s tenure in office.

“I think they really appreciate the contrast of somebody who has worked in law enforcement, has gone after corruption, who’s going to take it to somebody who is really about keeping himself in power and enriching himself more than serving the rest of us,” Rollins said.

That contrast, along with the heightened competitiveness of the race following 2020 Census redistricting, has driven the Democratic National Campaign Committee to place CA-41 on its Red to Blue program to provide Rollins with additional support to flip the seat.

While what he sees as Calvert’s affinity for corruption as harmful to constituents, Rollins is seeking to highlight such a reason for voters to consider a shift.

“I think people understand that that corruption affects their daily lives,” Rollins said. “Because if you are willing to put the interests of the gun lobby and the interests of the oil and gas lobby ahead of your own voters because that’s who lines your pockets, then you’re not going to deliver for communities.”

Following former President Trump’s defeat to Joe Biden in the 2020 election, Calvert voted to reject election college votes from multiple states when Congress met to certify Biden’s election on Jan. 6, 2021.

Having helped to prosecute members of the insurgent rioters who breached the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, Rollins has also sought to combat conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election and Trump’s “Big Lie” that the election was stolen, that he feels Calvert has promoted and that foreign adversaries could use to their advantage.

“We, as Americans, all have a responsibility to reject those efforts and to think about how we can strengthen our defenses and our democracy in the 21st century,” Rollins said.

But issues of corruption are not the only points of divergence between the two candidates.

Calvert had previously maintained support in what was a reliably conservative Republican district prior to redistricting in part by opposing LGBTQ rights. His record has included voting for legislation such as the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as between one man and one woman at a federal level.

Calvert also voted against the Fiscal Year 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which included an amendment that would repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays and lesbians serving in the military. The NDAA ultimately passed the House in a 229 to 186 vote. 

In contrast, Rollins has been open about his identity as a gay man and has campaigned alongside his partner.

Having experienced a national atmosphere currently rife with federal and state legislative animus toward the greater American LGBTQ community, Rollins feels his identity has helped him to see what can be possible.

“I think the experience gives me and has given me the optimism to know that the country can change and that your family can change and that your friends can change all for the better,” Rollins said. “And seeing that progress gives me hope for our country’s future.”

Over the course of the campaign, he has criticized Calvert for his past voting history, including Calvert’s vote against the 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act that added crimes committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and disability expanding federal statutes.

“These kinds of votes are so inconsistent with what southern Californians want that I think folks have been excited to see somebody who’s able to beat Ken Calvert,” Rollins said.

As the political geography of Calvert’s district has been altered, the congressman has voted in ways that suggest a move toward more moderate stances. Just last month, Calvert was one of 47 House Republicans to vote in favor of the Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal the federal DOMA he once supported and codify same-sex marriage into federal law.

Calvert told the Los Angeles Times in a mid-July interview that his views on matters such as the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision Obergefell v. Hodges, which established the right to same-sex marriage, have evolved.

“It wasn’t always my position,” Calvert told the Times. “It’s a different country than it was 30 years ago.”

Calvert went on to assert his stance that he has harbored no negative feelings toward members of the community.

“I’ve never had any animosity to the gay community,” Calvert told the Times. “I come out of the restaurant business, for goodness’ sake. A lot of people who worked with me were gay.”

The balancing of the playing field regarding LGBTQ+ issues, in part responsible for Calvert’s evolving views or not, is something that Rollins sees as an opportunity.

“Having Democrats outnumber Republicans for the first time ever against Calvert since he was first elected in ’92 has been a huge opportunity for the party and, I think, part of the reason that I’ve been able to set so many fundraising records against this guy, too.”

The prospect of a Rollins success in flipping the seat has already garnered the former prosecutor financial and campaign support from prominent players in progressive California politics including former U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) and outgoing San Francisco Democratic U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier.

According to campaign finance filings, this support gained Rollins almost $1.5 million by the end of June, with nearly $480,000 from the LGBTQ Victory Fund Equality PAC which has endorsed his candidacy.

“As anti-LGBTQ bills flood legislatures across the country, voters will have the opportunity to elect someone who has made it his life’s work to increase equity in his community and fight for justice and accountability,” Victory Fund President and CEO Annise Parker said in a statement. “As a federal prosecutor, Will tackled tough cases and won, including helping prosecute multiple insurrectionists who attacked the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. This grit is exactly what we need in Congress at a time of heightened attacks on democracy, LGBTQ rights and reproductive freedom.”

Even with increased fundraising, including having been the first challenger to outraise Calvert in a quarterly campaign finance disclosure filing, Rollins still faces a well-resourced incumbent with donations of hundreds of thousands of dollars from national conservative PACs aimed at restoring Republican control of the U.S. House in November.

Approaching the Fall midterm elections, Rollins remains stalwart in his belief that his staunch departure from 30 years of Calvert and his track record will encourage voters of California’s 41st District to believe in him.

“The election’s really not, in November, about Democrat versus Republican,” Rollins said. “In a lot of ways, it’s about integrity versus corruption, and I think that that message has really resonated with people especially because of my own background.”

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California Politics

Californians will be able to sue those responsible for illegal guns

Modeled on Texas’ abortion law upheld by SCOTUS, California will allow individuals to sue for damages those spreading illegal guns

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California Governor Newsom visits Santa Monica College to sign SB 1327 (Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

SANTA MONICA – At Santa Monica College, the site of a mass shooting that claimed the lives of six people including the gunman in 2013, Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed the nation’s first legislation allowing individuals to sue those spreading illegal guns as California continues to ramp up its gun safety protections.

SB 1327, authored by Senator Bob Hertzberg (D-San Fernando Valley), allows Californians to sue those making, selling, transporting or distributing illegal assault weapons and ghost guns – guns made at home to avoid tracing – for damages of at least $10,000 per weapon involved. The same damages are also available against gun dealers who illegally sell firearms to those under 21 years of age. The legislation is modeled after Texas’ wrongheaded anti-abortion bill, SB 8, which places $10,000 bounties on doctors, providers and others involved in providing life-saving abortion care.

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the Texas law last fall, Governor Newsom called on the California legislature to pass a similar bill to add a new tool to California’s gun safety toolkit.

“Our message to the criminals spreading illegal weapons in California is simple: you have no safe harbor here in the Golden State. While the Supreme Court rolls back reasonable gun safety measures, California continues adding new ways to protect the lives of our kids. California will use every tool at its disposal to save lives, especially in the face of an increasingly extreme Supreme Court,” said Governor Newsom.

The Governor spoke at Santa Monica College, the site of a mass shooting that took the lives of six people in 2013, including the gunman. The 2013 shooting involved an unserialized AR-15 type semi-automatic rifle built by the shooter using legally purchased components, a ghost gun that would be subject to lawsuit once SB 1327 is law.

“For the sake of our children, this is a common sense step toward ensuring California streets, schools and communities continue to be among the safest in the nation,” Senator Hertzberg said after the Governor signed SB 1327 into law.

“Today is a momentous day for California,” said Mia Tretta, a gun violence survivor and volunteer with Students Demand Action. “SB 1327 will make it easier for victims of ghost gun violence, like me, to help enforce our gun laws. It will save lives by attacking the illegal ghost gun industry.”

“While some politicians put up roadblocks or say nothing can be done, here in California we are once again proving we can take on the gun lobby and protect our communities,” said Attorney General Rob Bonta. “With these new laws, California is protecting life, safety, and freedom. We have the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, and one of the lowest firearm mortality rates. This is not a coincidence. More guns do not make us safer — laws like these do. Period. I am committed to enforcing our commonsense gun safety laws, and keeping weapons of war off our streets and out of the hands of dangerous individuals.”

“The continued need to adopt sensible solutions to our nation’s tragic history of gun violence is dire and necessary,” said Senator Anthony Portantino. “That includes SB 1327 – which I am proud to jointly author with Senator Hertzberg. I am grateful to Governor Newsom for his partnership on this important bill that will keep our communities safe and improve public safety for all Californians. If Texas can outrageously use this type of law to attack a woman’s reproductive freedom, we can do the same thing in California to hold gun dealers accountable for their actions.”

California Governor Newsom visits Santa Monica College
(Photo Credit: Office of the Governor)

“Untraceable ghost guns purchased without background checks have fueled gun violence throughout California and the nation and for far too long,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action and California resident. “Thanks to leadership by gun sense lawmakers and relentless advocacy from our grassroots army, California continues to lead the nation in taking life saving action to combat ghost guns.”

California’s gun safety policies save lives and provide a national model for other states to follow. According to the Giffords Law Center, in 2021, California was ranked as the top state in the nation for gun safety. As California strengthened its gun laws, the state saw a 37 percent lower gun death rate than the national average. Meanwhile, other states such as Florida and Texas, with lax gun regulations, saw double-digit increases in the rate of gun deaths. As a result of the actions taken by California, the state has cut its gun death rate in half and Californians are 25 percent less likely to die in a mass shooting compared to people in other states.

Last month, Governor Newsom announced a record $156 million in gun violence prevention grants provided as part of the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program (CalVIP). The funding will support 79 cities and nonprofit organizations that are implementing anti-violence programs suited to the unique needs of their local communities.

A recent study from the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis found that California’s red flag law was used to stop 58 threatened mass shootings.

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California Politics

Newsom signs new laws to protect Californians from gun violence

Laws to improve school safety, restrict gun possession by people convicted of child/elder abuse, & better regulate the sale of firearms

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California Governor Gavin Newsom (Blade file photo)

SACRAMENTO – Moving to bolster California’s nation-leading gun safety laws, Governor Gavin Newsom announced that he has signed additional legislation to protect Californians, including measures to improve school campus safety, restrict gun possession by people convicted of child abuse or elder abuse, and better regulate the sale of firearms.

Governor Newsom recently signed AB 1594, which allows the state, local governments and Californians to sue irresponsible gunmakers for the harm caused by their products, as well as AB 2571, which prohibits marketing of firearms to minors, and AB 1621 to further restrict ghost guns. The Governor has also sponsored SB 1327, private right of action legislation to limit the spread of assault weapons and ghost guns.

“California has the toughest gun safety laws in the nation, but none of us can afford to be complacent in tackling the gun violence crisis ravaging our country,” said Governor Newsom. “These new measures will help keep children safe at school, keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and responsibly regulate the sale of firearms in our communities. California will continue to lead on lifesaving polices that provide a model for action by other states and the nation.”

A full list of today’s bills is below:

  • AB 228 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino) – Requires the Department of Justice, beginning January 1, 2024, to conduct inspections of dealers at least every three years, except for a dealer whose place of business is located in a jurisdiction that has adopted an inspection program.  
  • AB 311 by Assemblymember Christopher Ward (D-San Diego) – Prohibits the sale of firearm precursor parts on the property of the 22nd District Agricultural Association, the Del Mar Fairgrounds. 
  • AB 1769 by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) – Prohibits the sale of any firearm, firearm precursor part, or ammunition on the property of the 31st District Agricultural Association, the Ventura County Fair and Event Center. 
  • AB 1842 by Assemblymember Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino) – Prohibits licensed firearms dealers from charging more than 5 percent of the purchase price of the firearm as a restocking or other return-related fee when the purchase of the firearm is canceled by the buyer within 10 days of the application, with an exception for special order firearms. 
  • AB 2156 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland) – Expands the prohibitions on the manufacture of firearms without a state license including reducing the number of guns a person may manufacture without a license and prohibiting the use of a three-dimensional printer to manufacture any firearm without a license.
  • AB 2239 by Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D-San Diego) – Creates a 10-year prohibition on the possession of firearms for individuals convicted of child abuse or elder abuse.
  • SB 906 by Senator Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) – Requires local educational agencies to annually provide information to parents about California’s child access prevention laws and laws relating to the safe storage of firearms; requires school officials to report to law enforcement any threat or perceived threat of a homicidal act; and requires law enforcement or the school police to conduct an investigation and threat assessment, including a review of the Department of Justice’s firearm registry and a search of the school and/or student’s property by law enforcement or school police, if certain conditions are met.
  • SB 915 by Senator Dave Min (D-Costa Mesa) – Prohibits the sale of firearms, firearm precursor parts and ammunition on state property, as specified.

According to the Giffords Law Center, in 2021, California was ranked as the top state in the nation for gun safety. As California strengthened its gun laws, the state saw a 37 percent lower gun death rate than the national average. Meanwhile, other states such as Florida and Texas, with lax gun regulations, saw double-digit increases in the rate of gun deaths. As a result of the actions taken by California, the state has cut its gun death rate in half and Californians are 25 percent less likely to die in a mass shooting compared to people in other states.

Last month, Governor Newsom announced a record $156 million in gun violence prevention grants provided as part of the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program (CalVIP). The funding will support 79 cities and nonprofit organizations that are implementing anti-violence programs suited to the unique needs of their communities.

More information on California’s nation-leading gun safety policies can be found here

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