Calif. lawmakers want to crack down on gun use. Why is the ACLU opposed to it?

California GOP lawmakers are trying to guarantee that criminals who use guns during violent crimes spend time in prison.

California in recent years has built a reputation on clamping down on gun ownership and the use of weapons to commit violent crimes through a bevy of legally-questionable gun control measures.

Now, one of the top backers of those measures – the American Civil Liberties Union – has found a gun measure it doesn’t like.


The big picture: Asm. Bill Essayli (R–Corona) introduced AB 328 at the end of January and had over a dozen Republicans sign on as coauthors. 

  • Under existing law, judges have the authority to dismiss an enhancement if it is in the furtherance of justice. 
  • Essayli’s proposal would prohibit judges from dismissing specified firearms-related enhancements, which would require mandatory prison time for anyone who uses a gun during a violent crime. 
  • AB 328 provides two exceptions to its proposed rule – judges would still be allowed to dismiss an enhancement in a gang-related offense where the person did not personally use or intentionally discharge the firearm, and if the firearm was unloaded at the time of the offense. 

The backstory: The current law that AB 328 would change is the 10-20-life firearm law – called the Use of a Gun and You’re Done law – that provides the following enhancements that judges are allowed to dismiss: 

  • Someone who uses a firearm during an offense is subjected to an additional 10 years in prison. 
  • If the firearm is intentionally discharged the defendant is subject to an additional 20 years in prison. 
  • The defendant is subject to an additional sentence of 25-years-to-life in prison if the gun discharging results in great bodily injury or death. 
  • The legislature passed Senate Bill 620 in 2017 which gave judges the ability to dismiss the firearm enhancements in question. 

By the numbers: According to the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation, there 6,255 enhancements imposed on 2,845 offenders from 2015-2017, the three years prior to SB 620. 

  • From 2018-2021 – three years after SB 620 became law – there were 6,078 enhancements imposed on 2,672 offenders. 

What they’re saying: In a letter to Essayli, the ACLU argued that his proposal would increase the number of “unjust sentence terms” imposed by judges. 

  • “There is no doubt that the foreseeable injustices of AB 328 will be disproportionately experienced by Black, American Indian, and Latinx men. Further,  history has conclusively proven that stripping judges of discretion efficiently facilitates prison overcrowding, which in turn results in inhuman prison conditions, cost taxpayers millions of dollars in litigation, and stymies rehabilitation. 
  • Essayli fired back on Twitter, calling for serious consequences for criminals who use guns to hurt others. 
  • “They argue that locking up the most dangerous criminals has no public safety benefit and is inherently racist. That’s ridiculous. Crime rates plummet when we remove the most violent criminals from society,” Essayli wrote. 
  • Essayli continued, “The majority of violent crime victims are minorities. For example, Black Americans make up 14% of the population, but 32% of all violent crime victims and 54.4% of homicide victims. These victims are the true disenfranchised members of society, not the criminals murdering them.” 
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