Gun-control groups said Thursday they were trying to find a new legislative leader to champion firearms restrictions after one of their most outspoken supporters was charged in a federal gun-trafficking case.
People on both sides of the gun control issue said the charges against state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, may slow consideration of gun legislation this year.
"Ironically, while he's being charged with gun trafficking, next to (U.S. Sen.) Dianne Feinstein he was probably the second most outspoken gun control advocate. This really leaves us scrambling for someone to pick up that mantle," said Paul Song, executive chairman of CourageCampaign.org. "If it wasn't so sad it would be comical. But what we're really worried about is that this will further destroy the momentum for gun control here in California."
Yee was arrested and later freed on bond Wednesday as federal authorities unsealed charges against 26 defendants, including Keith Jackson, Yee's campaign aide.
Court documents allege that Yee sought campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker. An FBI affidavit says Yee talked with the undercover agent about acquiring weapons worth $500,000 to $2.5 million, including shoulder-fired missiles, from a Muslim separatist group in the Philippines.
His attorney has said Yee plans to plead not guilty. His legislative spokesman, Dan Lieberman, did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Organizers said the arrest of Lee particularly clouds the future of two of his gun control bills.
Yee's SB47 would prohibit the use of so-called bullet buttons and other devices that allow for swift reloading of military-style assault weapons. His SB108 would require the state Department of Justice to study safe firearm storage methods. Both stalled in the Assembly last year.
"I feel very dismayed and upset," said Amanda Wilcox, an advocate for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose daughter was a victim of gun violence.
But, "his actions don't make what is good policy any less good policy," she added.
Her husband, Nick Wilcox, said advocates are exploring other ways to move Yee's bills forward. He said he can't argue with opponents who view the alleged actions as the height of hypocrisy.
"If these allegations are true, Sen. Yee is easily the biggest hypocrite on gun control to walk the halls of the Capitol in Sacramento, if not the entire United States," the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms said on its website.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said he was saddened by the damage done to the Legislature as a political and governmental institution. He said Lee's arrest may give other advocates pause.
"Denying law-abiding citizens semi-automatic firearms ... and then to funnel guns for illegal activity is the height of hypocrisy," Paredes said. "There's no other way to describe it, because it's just (like) a movie script."