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Roberti Proposes Bill to Ban Sale of Military Weapons Used by Gangs

December 07, 1988|CARL INGRAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), declaring that "innocents are being killed," Tuesday proposed gun control legislation that would outlaw the sale of semiautomatic military weapons favored by street gangs.

Roberti listed the bill as the top priority on his "Agenda for the People," a list of goals he hopes Gov. George Deukmejian and the Legislature will enact at the session starting Jan. 3.

He said expanding gang warfare involving violent hoodlums and drug dealers heavily armed with semiautomatic military assault firearms "no longer is a bloody matter between the Crips and the Bloods. Innocents are being killed."

'Instruments of Death'

"We must go after the gangs' instruments of death, the semiautomatic weapons," the Senate president pro tem told a press conference.

Roberti's plan, which received support from a representative of Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates and opposition from the National Rifle Assn., would not apply to semiautomatic sporting firearms such as rifles and shotguns, he said.

"I am not in any way going to define a semiautomatic weapon as something that is a traditional weapon used for sporting purposes," he said. "I am talking about something that has paramilitary purpose or paramilitary origin."

Although details of the bill are being drafted, Roberti said it will be aimed at prohibiting over-the-counter sales of such guns as Israeli Uzis, Soviet AK-47s and other military or paramilitary semiautomatic weapons that can be altered to fully automatic like a machine gun. Machine guns are prohibited in California.

Generally, semiautomatic weapons fire once each time the trigger is pulled. Fully automatic weapons continue to fire as long as the trigger remains depressed.

Police Outgunned

California police officers have complained in recent years that they are being outgunned by street gangsters and drug dealers who can legally purchase heavy duty military assault weapons whose fundamental purpose is to kill human beings.

Under California law, the purchaser of an automatic pistol or revolver at a gun shop must wait 15 days until he or she can take delivery of the firearm. This gives law enforcement officers time to determine whether the purchaser has a criminal background or has record of mental illness.

No waiting period applies to rifles and shotguns or military-style semiautomatic weapons. Roberti said police in Oakland found that only 12% of the semi-automatic weapons they seized in crimes were stolen. A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said most weapons his officers seize are not reported stolen.

Roberti conceded that his plan faces strong opposition in the Legislature, where members historically have been reluctant to put new restrictions on gun ownership or tangle with the influential gun lobby. He suggested that he may have to compromise and settle for a 15-day waiting period, the same as required for handguns.

In the face of National Rifle Assn. opposition, similar legislation has failed at recent sessions of the Legislature. Last year, Roberti successfully carried an NRA-opposed bill to outlaw toy-gun replicas of the real thing.

Roberti said his bill would not ban the possession of military assault weapons, because its enforcement "would be almost impossible."

Cmdr. William Booth, spokesman for Gates, said the Los Angeles police chief favors prohibiting civilians from either buying or possessing military assault weapons. He said even without the possession ban, "prohibiting the sale would be better than nothing."

However, David S. Marshall, lobbyist for the NRA, which estimates its active California membership at 300,000, said his organization favors legislation similar to a new federal law that would "target" felons and try to make sure they cannot legally buy any firearm.

"We think the Roberti bill is a step back in time to a concept that never worked," Marshall said. "We don't want legislation misdirected at law-abiding citizens in an attempt to deal with the (gang) problem."

Roberti also said efforts are underway to try to sketch a new sense of ethics in the Legislature, including a suggestion that lawmakers and their employees be prohibited from raising election campaign funds while the Legislature is in session.

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