U.S. Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) has reintroduced proposed legislation aimed at stopping law enforcement firearms from getting into the wrong hands, inspired in part by the shooting death of Pleasanton native Kate Steinle four years ago.
Dubbed the "Federal Law Enforcement and Public Protection Act," House Resolution 3420 would mandate all federal agencies to implement rules to help prevent law enforcement officers' service weapons from being lost or stolen.
"The intention of federal law enforcement agencies is to keep the public safe. When their own weapons are being used against them and in other acts of violence, they are not fulfilling that job," DeSaulnier said in a statement. "To improve public safety, we need to improve the standards for officer gun safety and storage."
The East Bay congressman, whose district includes the Tri-Valley communities of Danville and Alamo, presented the same bill for consideration in both previous terms in the wake of Steinle's death and other similar cases in which a stolen police gun fired the fatal bullet, but his legislation failed to gain traction in Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives.
DeSaulnier is trying his hand again, this time with his Democratic Party holding the House majority.
HR 3420 would require the leaders of each of the nearly 80 civilian and military federal law enforcement agencies to create minimum standards directing their officers to store and safely lock their firearms when not kept in their personal possession.
The legislation would put the onus on the officer to store their service weapon by using smart guns and smart locks, trigger locks, safes, gunlock boxes or other means approved by the agency, which would decide the discipline for violations.
The guns could not be kept in personal or patrol vehicles except for temporary storage when in court, when other options aren't available, or if authorized by the agency. If an officer's gun is stolen or lost, the incident would need to be reported to the FBI, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and relevant state and local agencies.
HR 3420, which DeSaulnier introduced on June 21, has been referred to the Judiciary and Armed Services committees.
His same legislative proposal never advanced out of committee in the previous two terms when Republicans held the House majority.
DeSaulnier said that with recent reports of local and federal law enforcement officers having their service weapons stolen or misplacing their guns, the safety concerns prompting HR 3420 remain just as relevant as they did after Steinle's death on Pier 14 in San Francisco on July 1, 2015.
An Amador Valley High alumna living in San Francisco at the time, 32-year-old Steinle was walking with her father on the pier when she was shot and killed by a bullet fired from a gun that had been stolen from the car of a U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ranger.
Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, an oft-deported undocumented Mexican immigrant with a history of criminal convictions, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter by a San Francisco jury on Nov. 30, 2017 but found guilty of being an ex-felon in possession of a gun related to Steinle's shooting death.
Garcia Zarate's defense counsel argued at trial that the BLM ranger's gun went off accidentally, firing the bullet that ricocheted off the ground before fatally striking Steinle. Prosecutors did not present any evidence in the case to indicate that Garcia Zarate stole the gun.
BLM Ranger John Woychowski testified that he left the gun -- his secondary duty weapon -- in a holster inside a backpack with his badge and law enforcement credentials stashed under the front seat of his SUV parked on The Embarcadero near Pier 5 while he went to dinner with his family four days before Steinle's death.
He said on the witness stand that he thought it was a safe location to leave his firearm in the SUV, but the vehicle's windows were smashed and the backpack stolen that night. The gun was reported missing to San Francisco police and to BLM officials immediately and Woychowski said the incident was investigated but he was not disciplined for it.
Steinle's parents, Jim Steinle and Elizabeth Sullivan, still have a federal lawsuit pending against the BLM claiming the ranger violated a duty to secure the loaded handgun properly.
Steinle's slaying -- and the defendant's subsequent acquittal -- captured national headlines and spurred new debate on immigration enforcement and sanctuary city policies.
The House in 2017 passed "Kate's Law," a bill inspired by the Steinle case that proposed to increase punishments for criminal offenders who re-enter the country illegally after deportation, but the legislation never advanced out of the Senate. U.S. Rep Steve King (R-Iowa) introduced his own, broader version of "Kate's Law" this January.