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State's Fight Over Assault Guns May Set Trend in U.S.

February 12, 1989|CARL INGRAM | Times Staff Writer

Both have long opposed additional controls on firearms, but in the wake of the Stockton killings have spoken out against the AK-47.

"I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen to own guns for sport--hunting and so forth--or for home defense," Reagan told USC students last week. "But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon."

Deukmejian has said he doesn't see "any reason why anybody has to or needs to have a military assault type weapon, even somebody who is a sportsman or a hunter. . . . I don't think they need to use a military assault type weapon."

The governor also favors extending the 15-day waiting period required for the purchase of handguns to all firearms. This would give authorities time to perform criminal background checks on all potential gun purchasers.

The AK-47s and other rapid-firing military weapons sold in the United States are semiautomatic, meaning they fire a single round with each squeeze of the trigger. Machine guns, on the other hand, fire a spray of bullets with only one pull.

Weapon Made Deadlier

Virtually any semiautomatic gun can be modified into a machine gun, which is illegal. Controversy swirls over how easily such guns can be converted to full-automatic, but law enforcement officials maintain that their officers are being outgunned by drug lords and street criminals.

The Roberti-Roos legislation, which has drawn the most attention, is intended to prohibit the manufacture and sale of certain semiautomatic military weapons such as the AK-47 and would establish an appointed commission to rule on the acceptability of other firearms as they came on the market. People possessing assault weapons would have to make them inoperable or register them.

As an alternative to banning military semiautomatics, the NRA favors mandatory sentences without parole or probation for criminals who use lethal weapons, elimination of plea bargaining for gun offenders, expanding the list of people who cannot legally buy firearms to include people ruled mentally unstable by a court and people involved in violent misdemeanors.

Additionally, the NRA favors creating in the state Department of Justice a computerized system that could inform a gun dealer immediately whether a prospective purchaser of any firearm had a criminal record or was mentally unstable.

Along with Gardiner, the NRA has sent a public relations specialist to Sacramento from Washington and wants to hire a second lobbyist in the state capital.

Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) told The Times that the NRA was prepared to spend "incredible" sums for such a lobbyist, an assertion denied as "absolutely false" by Gardiner. "We are not offering incredible bucks to pay somebody," he said.

Richardson, for years the Legislature's outspoken champion of gun ownership, is homing in on the Capitol with a video he produced as a tool to lobby former colleagues. In it, he notes that the semiautomatic actions of a hunting rifle and a military version of the gun are the same.

'Right to Vote'

"The internal workings are the same," Richardson tells the lawmakers. "How are you going to outlaw one without outlawing the other?" At another point, he warns that if sportsmen lose their constitutional "rights to own firearms . . . those same constituents will not lose their right to vote. They will not go away."

Handgun Control Inc., a controversial national organization based in Washington, has hired Cristina Rose, a Sacramento lobbyist, for the fight and says that although it let law enforcement take the lead, it will wage an active advertising and public relations campaign in California.

"Law enforcement officials are in the best position to tell legislators what is needed, so we defer to them," said Barbara Lautman, the group's director of communications. Handgun Control ads supporting the Roberti-Roos bills already have begun running in newspapers.

"We are probably going to commit about $100,000 to the campaign in California," she said.

Van de Kamp, a likely Democratic contender for governor in 1990, recently announced a "divide and conquer" strategy to separate rank-and-file California NRA members from the organization's hierarchy.

He appealed to the "law-abiding members of the NRA--the hunters of this state--to use some common sense and take a look at public safety and determine if these (military guns) have any legitimate sporting value. We are appealing to good sense."

Such tactics have been tried before, NRA lobbyist Marshall said, and they have failed.

"Only one thing and one thing only interests us: the recreational use of sporting firearms," Marshall said of NRA members, whom he described as Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals "yuppies, women, minorities, the housewife down in L.A."

"NRA members believe they have rights as citizens and when somebody takes away those rights or diminishes those rights or threatens to do so, they react and they remember," he said. "It is not something that is going to go away two years down the road when 1990 rolls around."

Despite these threats, supporters of the gun-control legislation say they are cautiously optimistic that the Senate will approve a ban on assault weapons. The big clash, they say, will come in the Assembly, where the outcome seems less certain.

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