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Assault Gun Ban Wins Final Vote : Deukmejian's Promised Approval Would Make It 1st Such U.S. Law

May 19, 1989|CARL INGRAM | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — The Legislature beat down the gun lobby Thursday and sent to Gov. George Deukmejian for his promised signature a landmark bill making California the first state to ban military-style assault weapons.

Jubilant supporters, who broke out in applause when Assembly approval of the heavily lobbied measure was announced, declared that the action "sends a message" to President Bush, Congress and other state legislatures that concern for public safety outweighs the demand to sell and own semiautomatic combat arms.

A spokesman for Deukmejian said the Republican governor intends to sign the bill next week under a compromise reached with the Democratic authors of the legislation, Assemblyman Mike Roos and Senate leader David A. Roberti, both of Los Angeles.

Uphill Battle

In California, attempts to impose new controls on gun ownership are always uphill battles. The last time the Legislature enacted a major ban on firearms occurred in 1934 when machine guns, a favorite of mobsters, were put off limits.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday May 23, 1989 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 6 Metro Desk 1 inches; 23 words Type of Material: Correction
A story Friday incorrectly identified a drifter who murdered five children in a Stockton schoolyard shooting spree in January. The gunman's name was Patrick Purdy.

The assault gun proposal was first approved by the Senate on Thursday by an almost routine 27-11 bipartisan vote. Later, the Assembly approved it 41-35, the precise simple majority required in the 80-member chamber.

At one point during the televised Assembly debate, an opponent of the bill, Assemblyman Richard Mountjoy (R-Monrovia), demonstrated how a legal semiautomatic rifle can be quickly made to look like an assault weapon.

"Did you get permission to carry that onto the floor?" cried out Assemblyman John Burton (D-San Francisco), a supporter of the ban. "Is it loaded?" Mountjoy assured him that the gun was unloaded and that he had received permission to bring it into the chamber.

Basically, the bill provides that effective next Jan. 1 it will be against the law to sell, give, lend, import, distribute or manufacture about 60 types of semiautomatic rifles, shotguns and pistols declared by brand name to be "assault weapons." The bill also sets up a system to register such guns if they have been legally acquired by this June 1.

The final vote actually occurred on a conference committee report that contained compromises agreed to by the lawmakers to win Deukmejian's signature. Except for the compromise provisions that dealt with penalties for possession of unregistered guns legally obtained before June 1, the bill by Roos was identical to an earlier measure by Roberti that had been sent to the governor.

The bill was strongly supported by top law enforcement officials, teachers, physicians and church-based community organizations in Los Angeles County where terrorized neighborhoods have become shooting galleries for drug trafficking street gangs armed with such assault weapons as Uzis and AK-47s.

Bitterly opposed to the proposal were gun-owner groups, including the usually politically influential National Rifle Assn., which waged an all-out lobbying campaign to kill the legislation. Gun owners argued that it would do nothing to stop criminals but would disarm law-abiding citizens of one type of gun.

NRA Defeated

Roberti declared that final legislative approval of the bill demonstrated that "the National Rifle Assn. can be beaten and the special interests don't always win every year . . . . The fact that the Legislature responded to the concerns of the public and defeated the NRA, that is something we are very, very pleased about."

But Richard E. Gardiner, the NRA's Washington-based director of lobbying in state legislatures, insisted that final approval of the bill was "based on a lot of untruths" and asserted that the compromise changes sought by Deukmejian "are not in this bill."

"It certainly sends a message very clearly that the state of California is not interested in doing anything about crime," he charged. "It's a clear message that the government of California so detests its own citizens that it wants to make criminals out of them."

Gardiner also forecast that the California action, rather than encouraging Bush and Congress to enact a national ban on assault rifles, would have "no effect" on the White House or Capitol Hill. He said the NRA, as expected, intends to file a lawsuit against the California ban next year when the bill becomes law.

From the other side, state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, a strong supporter of the bill and a Democratic contender for governor next year, asserted that "the focus now shifts from Sacramento to Washington." He praised Republican President Bush for proposing a ban on some imported assault weapons, but said "he needs to do much more. The time for half-measures is past. I call for a national ban on assault weapons and urge the Congress and President to act as responsibly as our Legislature and our governor have."

Previous Efforts

Efforts to ban assault weapons in California reach back at least five years and previously have always failed, largely at the hands of the NRA, whose members total about 270,000 in the state and are considered a political bloc not to trifle with.

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