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Ban on Assault Guns Fails in Long Beach

March 09, 1989|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A proposed ban of semiautomatic assault weapons has succumbed in two City Council committees to a volley of questions over whether such a law would be effective or legal.

The joint Legislative and Public Safety committees decided Tuesday against making any recommendations to the City Council, effectively killing the proposal.

Councilman Evan Anderson Braude never called for a vote on whether to recommend a ban on possession or sales of the assault weapons. The proposal was similar to a law recently enacted in nearby Compton. Braude, the first council member to call for research into an assault weapon ban, said it was clear from the members' comments that sentiment ran against the proposal.

"The audience was stacked with National Rifle Assn. members. It's a blood-and-guts issue with them," Braude said in an interview after the hearing. He said his office received calls and letters in favor of a ban, but that supporters did not turn out for the hearing.

More than a score of gun enthusiasts attended the joint meeting to blast proposals to ban ownership of assault weapons.

But even before they voiced their opposition, City Atty. John Calhoun said that a local measure banning semiautomatic assault weapons might be on shaky legal ground if it were challenged.

City Prosecutor John Vander Lans, whose office would press charges against the possessors of such weapons if a ban were enacted, urged the committee to await action on bills pending before the Legislature that would impose a statewide ban.

And Police Chief Lawrence L. Binkley said an assault rifle ban would amount to being "a Band-Aid on a broken artery." Instead of outlawing the weapons, he said, local government should concentrate on overhauling the entire criminal justice system.

Gun owners said they should not be turned into criminals because of their appreciation of high-powered weapons. Even if the guns were banned, they said, the criminals would still get their hands on other types of guns that could prove just as deadly.

Middleton Tompkins, a former NRA board member and a marksman with high-powered rifles, said regulation of the weapons would jeopardize responsible gun owners' constitutional rights. The answer, Tompkins said, is to "get the person off the street who is misusing the firearm."

George E. Russell, who identified himself as a veteran of three wars, said the assault guns cannot be blamed for violence on the streets. "The gun is an ignorant tool. It will not function unless it is made to do so," he said.

Spokesmen for Long Beach Area Citizens Involved and senior citizens' organizations supported bans on assault rifles. One speaker, Dick Palmer, said more needed to be done to control the weapons. "The NRA has more blood on (its) hands than a lot of terrorist organizations in the world."

Council members, however, were not swayed.

"The state Legislature should address this, not us," said Councilman Jeff Kellogg. "Personally, I don't want gun control."

Councilman Ray Grabinski said the discussion basically amounted to "good people arguing with good people about bad people." He called upon the NRA to propose its own plan to stop violence and bloodshed caused by assault weapons.

Councilman Les Robbins, a 14-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and a recreational hunter, said he believes law enforcement officers would generally support some sort of controls or waiting period concerning sales of assault rifles. He said there is a waiting period after the purchase of a handgun, but none when it comes to the high-powered rifles.

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