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Assault Weapons : Outrage Is Ammo in the War on Guns

December 28, 1988|JOHN HURST | Times Staff Writer

The old green Pontiac swerved into the busy intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue, sideswiped a van and raced south as a black-and-white squad car pursued with its red lights flashing and siren shrieking.

Los Angeles Police Officers Chris Warren and Jim Harris were gaining on the car when its brake lights suddenly came on and a passenger with a military-style assault rifle leaned out a rear window and opened fire.

The officers, armed with handguns, were hopelessly overmatched by the high-powered assault weapon, which can hold 30 to 75 rounds of ammunition and is capable of sending bullets entirely through a car, ripping in one door and out the other.

Earlier Incident Recalled

Warren, who was driving, remembered in a sickening flash that just three months earlier, LAPD Officer Daniel Pratt was killed by an assault rifle in just such a situation.

"The bottom of my stomach dropped out," he recalled afterward.

Warren hit the brakes, and both officers crouched behind the dashboard, shielding themselves with the car's engine as bullets slammed into the front of the vehicle.

When the assailants drove on, the officers again pursued, and at Crenshaw and 63rd Street the Pontiac went out of control and smashed into a motel. As Warren and Harris pulled up, the suspects leaped from the car. One fired a .45-caliber handgun as he ran, and the other, holding the assault rifle at his waist, shot at the officers Rambo-style as he sidestepped in retreat.

"I hit the brakes again, and we swung behind a parked car for cover," Warren said.

One suspect was subsequently arrested, and a loaded 30-round clip for an AK-47 assault rifle was found in the wrecked car. Police found 17 spent 7.62-millimeter cartridges, which are used in the AK-47, scattered on the streets.

3rd in 3 Months

The Dec. 3 incident marked at least the third time in three months that LAPD officers have been fired on with military-style assault weapons.

Pratt was killed by an AR-15 semiautomatic assault weapon Sept. 3 as he pursued a suspect in a drive-by shooting in South-Central Los Angeles, according to police. On Oct. 26, LAPD Motorcycle Officer Wilbur Carter reported that he was shot at by a motorist with an assault weapon during a traffic stop in Westwood Village. The car was subsequently found abandoned with an AK-47 inside.

Such incidents involving police officers in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state--as well as the far more frequent attacks with assault weapons on private citizens--have caused a growing sense of outrage among law enforcement officials, legislators, local officials and residents of neighborhoods scarred by violence.

A clash between the powerful pro-gun lobby and a newly emerging coalition seeking to outlaw assault weapons seems certain to occur in Sacramento in the new year when the Legislature reconvenes.

Critics of assault weapons argue that the guns are designed for the sole purpose of killing people. They point to a growing number of cases in which innocent bystanders, frequently children, are sprayed with bullets from the guns. Some of the weapons are so powerful that they send bullets crashing through the walls of buildings, killing people in their homes.

Critics complain that assault weapons can be purchased across the counter in California gun stores by 18-year-olds using only a driver's license as identification. Buyers of rifles and shotguns are required to fill out forms answering such questions as whether or not they have ever been convicted of felonies. But the answers are not verified.

Pro-gun advocates argue that the vast number of assault weapon owners are legitimate gun fanciers and that outlawing the firearms would be as futile as Prohibition.

Be that as it may, a task force made up of law enforcement officers and district attorneys from around the state has drawn up tentative drafts of legislation to outlaw the sale and possession of assault weapons in California.

Measures Planned

State Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) has announced his intention to carry such a measure, and Assembly Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles), who introduced an unsuccessful bill to control assault rifles this year, said he is ready to make another run at it in 1989.

There is also support for such legislation among local government officials.

At its October meeting in San Diego, the League of California Cities passed a resolution in support of legislation to outlaw the sale and possession of assault weapons.

In Oakland in October, Alameda County Supervisor Don Perata held a dramatic all-day hearing on assault weapons at which both victims of the guns and firearms dealers testified.

At the time, Perata had hopes for legislation requiring that assault rifles be sold only after a 15-day waiting period in which a prospective purchaser's background would be checked for criminal violations, as is required for handgun sales in California.

Reaction Grows

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