COMPTON — When Willard D. Murray ran for the state Assembly last fall, voters in this city overwhelmingly supported the former civil rights activist and political consultant. Now, some of the same people are at odds with their new legislator over the issue of gun control.
Murray (D-Paramount) is opposed to gun control. In Compton--where the latest people to die from semiautomatic weapon fire were a 2-year-old boy, a 19-year-old man and a 32-year-old man walking along a residential street--there is widespread support for outlawing the weapons, officials and residents say.
Last month the City Council unanimously voted to ban the sale or possession of the semiautomatic military-style assault rifles within municipal boundaries.
Murray says, however, that he will not support a move in the state Legislature to outlaw or restrict the sale of such semiautomatics as the kind of military assault weapon used in the killing last month of five Stockton schoolchildren.
'Better Support It'
"He'd better support it," Compton Mayor Walter R. Tucker said. "If he doesn't, he'll be a one-term assemblyman just like the guy before him."
Murray ousted Republican incumbent Paul E. Zeltner of Lakewood. The National Rifle Assn. endorsed Murray shortly before election day after Zeltner, a former Los Angeles County sheriff's captain, was quoted as saying that he would favor some kind of restriction on the sale of such semiautomatic military-style assault weapons as the Uzi and the AK-47.
Military-style assault rifles sold on the civilian market are high-powered weapons that can fire one round for each squeeze of the trigger. Although assault rifles are generally more compact than hunting rifles, they carry more bullets. For instance, one magazine for the Uzi holds 32 rounds. Several police organizations want them banned.
Depending on the "Maybe he got some NRA money," Tucker said while trying to explain Murray's stance.
Murray and an NRA official insisted that the assemblyman did not receive NRA contributions.
The organization expects a legislator that it endorses to uphold the Constitution's Second Amendment guaranteeing a citizen's right to bear arms, said Ted A. Lattanzio, the NRA's director of state and local affairs.
Murray said in a recent interview that "Gun control would only keep guns away from the good, law-abiding citizens. And the bad people would get guns because they would not obey the law."
'Infringes' on Liberty
Murray, sounding the same theme he used during his campaign, said he is opposed to any further restriction on the sale of weapons because it "infringes on another person's liberty." He said he would not vote for a ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons nor would he support a compromise legislative proposal to make buyers wait 15 days from the date of purchase to the time they take possession. State law requires buyers of pistols to wait 15 days so that law enforcement agencies can make a background check on them.
"I am opposed to any additional restrictions," Murray said. "I have heard no evidence that gun control has reduced crime anywhere in this country."
The way to deal with the weapons issue, Murray insisted, is to punish those who use them during crimes. Murray said he has already introduced a bill in the Assembly that proposes longer prison sentences for people convicted of assault with semiautomatic assault weapons and machine guns.
Existing law provides for sentences of two to four years for assault with a firearm, Murray said. If his bill becomes law, he continued, assault with a semiautomatic assault weapon would carry a prison sentence of four to 12 years and assault with a machine gun could be punishable with a life sentence. He said he is drafting other legislation to cover murder and armed robbery committed with semiautomatic assault weapons or machine guns.
Says Stand Is Political
Murray's old friend, Compton Councilman Maxcy Filer, said he believes that Murray's stance on gun control is a political one taken to court the NRA.
"I think he should really look into what he's doing when he says he would not ban semiautomatic weapons," Filer said. "He's saying, 'Then, fine, anyone in the city of Compton can have a weapon.' And we don't believe that.
"(Gun advocates) use the term freedom. What about the people getting killed? What about their rights? Those that are staying in their houses because they're afraid--what about their constitutional rights and their freedom?"
In Compton neighborhoods, the sound of gunfire from semiautomatic assault weapons is common.
"It's so loud you don't know when to fall to the floor," says Brenda Sykes, president of a block club in the Killen Place-Killen Court neighborhood in the city's northeast corner.
She recalls the Sunday morning she returned home from church services to find her neighbors nearly hysterical. A 15-year-old boy, ignoring children romping on front lawns, had chased another boy down the street, firing an assault rifle at him.