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Compton Outlaws Semiautomatic Firearms in City

January 26, 1989|MICHELE FUETSCH | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — Declaring that residents are tired of waiting for the Legislature to pass stricter gun laws, the City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance this week that bans the possession and sale of AK-47s and other semiautomatic weapons.

"We have suffered more because we have had more gang activity from those weapons and we've had more murders from those weapons," Councilman Maxcy Filer said after the Tuesday vote.

"What we are saying," Filer continued, "is that this has been going on in our community for years and we told you (state lawmakers) about it and we asked you to outlaw these and you did nothing, so, now we're saying that we will do it from within."

Takes Effect in 30 Days

The ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days, does not have any provision for people to turn in weapons that they already own. But Filer, the measure's author, said that issue can be addressed later. "They know they can turn them in at the police station," he said.

Anyone caught with a weapon, including any retail or wholesale business, any corporation or club, the ordinance says, is subject to a fine of up to $1,000 or a jail term of up to six months.

Compton is home to 36 gangs and last year had 84 murders within its municipal boundaries, one of the highest murder rates in Los Angeles County and the state, officials have said. Over the last three years, 60 people have been murdered by semiautomatic weapons. At one point last year, police said they had confiscated seven semiautomatic weapons over a 30-day period.

"The state Legislature would have gotten on this 10 years ago if it was happening in Beverly Hills, Torrance, Westwood or Pacific Palisades," Filer said.

At the time of the vote, Mayor Walter R. Tucker pointed out that Compton officials have "been in the vanguard a long time about banning guns." The mayor said he has been a vocal advocate of gun control within the League of California Cities and last fall was among the convention delegates who voted to have the league lobby for gun legislation.

National Attention

Compton is also home to Boulevard Auto, a gun store that attracted national attention last fall when Presidential candidate Jesse Jackson indirectly referred to it in a speech and called for the outlawing of semiautomatic weapons like the AK-47 used last week in the killing of five Stockton elementary school children.

City officials have long been seeking a way to curb the gun store's business. The ordinance could help do that if it holds up under the legal scrutiny it is bound to draw from gun advocates and the National Rifle Assn.

Owner Mike Virgilio was not present for the council vote. But in a subsequent interview, he insisted that he is not selling semiautomatic weapons indiscriminately.

"We don't sell AKs to people under 21 as it is," Virgilio said. "And we don't even keep Uzis (a similar type of assault rifle) in the store. The city manager and the chief of police (and I) we had a meeting down (at City Hall) and they conveyed their concerns and I did my best to comply with them."

Under state law, there is a 15-day waiting period for the purchase of a handgun. But a semiautomatic weapon such as the AK-47 can be bought by anyone who is 18 years or older and no background check is required to see whether the purchaser has a criminal record or a history of mental illness.

No Figures Disclosed

The sale of AK-47s, said Virgilio, is "no big part of our business. That particular model of gun is not any particular share of our volume," he said, refusing to disclose how many AK-47s he sells in a month.

The new city ordinance, said Virgilio, is going to encounter legal problems because it is difficult to define a semiautomatic weapon. Under the terms of the ordinance, he said, many hunting rifles can be classified as semiautomatic. The ordinance defines semiautomatics as any firearm that "shoots or is designed to shoot, automatically more than four shots, without manual reloading, by a single function of the trigger and includes any frame or receiver which can only be used with such a weapon."

"Whatever the law is," said Virgilio, "we will comply with it and if it's something that we think is unfair, we'll address the matter in the courts." He insisted, though, that the city cannot adopt gun restrictions and that gun control is the prerogative of the Legislature.

An earlier attempt by the City Council to adopt gun control restrictions faltered on the same legal argument. In the summer of 1987 the council voted to ban handguns. But within two weeks, members reversed themselves after hearing appeals from the NRA and several residents as well as the city attorney, who had said that only the Legislature had the power to regulate the sale and possession of guns.

Filer said, however, that the latest ordinance includes two provisions designed to thwart legal attempts to scuttle it. First, the ordinance specifically excludes handguns from the ban. And second, the wording contains what Filer calls a reference to the "federal question," which he says gives local governments the right to adopt gun control measures.

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