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After Newtown, California pushes for tighter gun controls

By Dan Whitcomb

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California lawmakers, seizing on new calls for gun controls following the massacre of 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school, rolled out proposals on Tuesday to close loopholes in the state's assault weapons ban and restrict ammunition sales.

The moves quickly put California at the forefront of what was expected to be a new wave of proposed firearm restrictions at the state and federal levels in the wake of the shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

State Senator Leland Yee introduced a bill that would prohibit gun owners from fitting semi-automatic weapons with devices, known as "bullet buttons" or "mag magnets," that allow them to be easily reloaded with multiple rounds of ammunition.

The San Francisco Democrat's measure would also prohibit add-on kits that allow high-capacity magazines. He said he was drafting legislation that would require yearly background checks for gun ownership and toughen safety requirements.

His action came as state Senator Kevin De Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said he would introduce a bill this week requiring ammunition buyers in the nation's most populous state to obtain a permit issued by the U.S. Department of Justice.

"For too long, too much ground has been ceded in the debate about reasonable gun and ammunition control," De Leon said in a statement. "In honor of the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims and thousands who have preceded them, we must not capitulate any longer."

A gunman carrying a semi-automatic rifle and two handguns opened fire on Friday at the Connecticut school, killing 20 young students and six adults in a crime that stunned Americans and renewed calls for stricter gun controls.

De Leon said the one-year, $50 permit, which would require a background check by the Justice Department, aimed to combat the easy accessibility of ammunition.

California gun laws are already among the toughest in the nation, topping a list compiled by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The state has banned most assault weapons, requires sales be made by a licensed dealer, including at gun shows, and imposes a 10-day waiting period, among other regulations.

DEMOCRATS SEE AN OPENING

But Yee told Reuters in an interview that he and other Democrats believe more can be done.

"We're looking at yearly registration, background checks of individuals who own guns. We're looking at saying to gun owners, ‘You've got to keep these guns locked up when you are not using them or not cleaning them, and that you need to put trigger locks on all of these weapons,'" he said.

Democrats won a two-thirds majority in both houses of California's legislature in November, giving them even greater clout in a body that they have long dominated. Governor Jerry Brown is also a Democrat.

Yee acknowledged that some Democrats in the state legislature were "sensitive" to the National Rifle Association but said that with a Democratic supermajority, chances for more gun control legislation have improved.

The NRA said on Tuesday it wanted to contribute meaningfully to prevent another massacre like the Connecticut shootings, suggesting a sharp change in tone for the largest U.S. gun-rights group.

Meanwhile, California Treasurer Bill Lockyer on Monday asked CalPERS and CalSTRS, the state's public pension funds, to account for their investments in gun manufacturers. Lockyer, a Democrat, proposed they divest interests in companies that make guns that are illegal under a state assault weapons ban.

Lockyer also left open the possibility of extending the move to gun sellers, as well as gun makers.

"We are not precluding the possibility of extending a divestment move to the retail sector, but right now we are focused on the source, which is the manufacturers," Lockyer spokesman Tom Dresslar said.

CalSTRS, the California State Teachers' Retirement System, said it was reviewing its investment with Cerberus Capital Management LP, following the massacre in Newtown. Cerberus owns Bushmaster Firearms International, maker of the AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle used in the Newtown shooting.

And in Washington, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, said she would introduce federal legislation this week to outlaw the high-capacity magazines and military-style assault rifles that have been used in many shooting rampages, including the one in Newtown.

Police say 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother, Nancy, at her home on Friday before shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School and opening fire on students and adults. He shot himself to death following the rampage, authorities say.

(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles and Peter Henderson in San Francisco; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Beech)

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