Calif. state senator arrested for alleged gun-running was gun-control advocate


California state Sen. Leland Yee, (D-San Francisco) leaves the San Francisco Federal Building on Wednesday. Yee is accused of asking for campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover agent to an arms trafficker. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

California state Sen. Leland Yee (D) was arrested Wednesday at his home in San Francisco and accused of — among many, many other things — offering to procure some seriously illegal weapons. The irony: Yee was one of the driving forces behind some of the toughest gun-control legislation in the country during his tenure in the state Senate.

First, a bit on Yee’s record: The former San Francisco School Board president, who received a PhD in child psychology from the University of Hawaii and was the first Chinese American to serve in the California Senate, wrote legislation in 2012 that would have banned the sales of conversion kits that would allow gun owners to create firearms with detachable magazines or bigger clips.

This year, Yee introduced two more gun-control bills. One, S.B. 108, would have required the Justice Department to study local safe storage ordinances that prevent children from getting access to their parents’ weapons. Another, S.B. 47, would have expanded California’s ban on assault weapons to include semiautomatics, centerfire rifles or pistols with the ability to accept detachable magazines (Both measures are sitting in a state Assembly committee, and it’s safe to assume they’ll die along with Yee’s political career).

At the same time, federal prosecutors allege, Yee was arranging a deal between an arms dealer and an undercover federal agent for weapons including something similar to an M16 and rocket launchers.

That’s right, rocket launchers.

(Our colleague Mark Berman has more on the indictment and its highlights)

According to the indictment, Yee met with the undercover agent in San Francisco earlier this year and promised to introduce him to an arms dealer friend who could import weapons into the United States from Russia. Yee allegedly warned the agent that arms dealing wasn’t a business for “the faint of heart.”

“Do I think we can make some money? I think we can make some money. Do I think we can get the goods? I think we can get the goods,” Yee told the agent, according to the charging document. “People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don’t care. People need certain things.”

Yee promised the undercover agent his source had access to “the equivalent to the ‘M16′ Automatic Service Weapon,” according the charging document. Yee asked for a list of weapons the agent wanted; when the agent asked about the availability of shoulder-fired missiles or rockets, Yee said he had mentioned those to his arms dealer friend, the indictment alleges.

“I told him about rocket launchers and things like that,” Yee allegedly said. According to the indictment, Yee even suggested that Africa was a “largely untapped market for trade.” At the time, he told the agent, there were about 100 rifles available for purchase, the indictment says.

According to the indictment, Keith Jackson, a political consultant working for Yee’s campaign for California secretary of state, told the undercover agent the senator had access to someone in the Philippines who had been supplying “heavy” weapons to rebel groups fighting the Filipino government. The FBI later identified the arms trader, the indictment says.

The arms trading is just a part of the indictment, which charges 26 people in and around the San Francisco-based Chee Kung Tong association. The indictment also accuses Yee of calling the California Department of Public Health on behalf of a client of another undercover agent, of introducing a resolution honoring Chee Kung Tong and of promising to introduce a donor to legislators who held sway over medical marijuana legislation, all in exchange for campaign cash.

Small potatoes, compared with rocket launchers and M16s.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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