The San Mateo County Board of Supervisors gave initial approval Tuesday to an ordinance that will update firearm laws with stricter licensing and security restrictions in the county’s unincorporated areas for the first time in 20 years.

The board unanimously approved the ordinance, which will return to the supervisors for a second reading and final approval. The amended ordinance requires firearms dealers to obtain a local license from the county manager and comply with strict security measures for their storefront.

Supervisor Dave Pine, who co-sponsored the item along with Supervisor Don Horsley, said that the recent mass shooting in San Jose underscored the need for gun safety. On May 26, an employee of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority shot and killed nine people at the Guadalupe light-rail yard before killing himself.

“It’s important to comprehensively regulate these firearm dealers to ensure everyone’s safety and to ensure that guns are not ending up in the wrong hands.”

Supervisor Dave Pine

“We do not have dealerships in unincorporated (areas) today but this sets the rules and standards for anyone who might want to open an establishment in the future,” Pine said. “It’s important to comprehensively regulate these firearm dealers to ensure everyone’s safety and to ensure that guns are not ending up in the wrong hands.”

The ordinance would not go into effect until 30 days after approval at the second reading. While the ordinance would only apply to unincorporated areas, it could be a model for cities to follow, Pine said.

State law already requires firearms dealers to have a state and federal license. In addition to the state’s requirements, the local ordinance would require dealers to obtain a local license, undergo a background check and submit inventory reports to the county manager.

Security requirements unique

However, state law does not have security measures like the ones introduced in the San Mateo County ordinance. Under the updated ordinance, firearms dealers must secure firearms, either in a fireproof safe or with steel rods or cables. They also need to have steel bars over windows, alarm systems, video surveillance and liability insurance.

Deputy County Counsel Lauren Carroll said the heightened security would help prevent things like “smash and grab” thefts, in which someone smashes windows of a store and takes as much as they can carry before fleeing.

The ordinance also restricts where firearms sales could take place. Sales must be a certain distance away from residences, schools, religious institutions, playgrounds and other places where children are present.

Allison Anderman, senior counsel with the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said that their organization supported the ordinance as federal and state agencies are incapable of fully monitoring gun dealers.

“Perhaps most importantly, by enacting this ordinance the county puts itself in control of revoking a license by a noncompliant dealer,” Anderman said. “Without this regulation it would be very difficult for a jurisdiction to shut down a gun dealer operating unlawfully as ATF (the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) rarely revokes licenses.”

‘Common sense, prudent steps’

The District Attorney’s office also supported the proposed laws.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Sean Gallagher, who represented District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe at the board meeting, said that their office thinks the laws are “common sense, prudent steps” to help keep firearms off the streets.

Gallagher said there have been 11 murders in San Mateo County so far in 2021, with eight occurring by firearms.

He said their office will also work with public safety partners to expand gun violence restraining orders, in which someone can petition the court to ban another person from having firearms or ammunition if that person might use a gun to hurt themselves or others.

Representatives from the local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America also expressed their support for the firearms laws, along with other members of the public.

Horsley, the supervisor who co-sponsored the ordinance, said that there may be people with firearms licenses who could be selling out of a home. The ordinance would prevent that from happening.

A staff report with more information on the ordinance can be found online.