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Gun Ban Bill Brings Panic Shopping, Hoarding

May 20, 1989|JOHN HURST | Times Staff Writer

Assault weapon buyers are panic shopping, firearms dealers are mad as hell, some police are cautiously optimistic and the Crips are hoarding their AK-47s.

These were among the reactions around California on Friday to a landmark assault-weapon ban passed Thursday by the state Legislature and expected to be signed by Gov. George Deukmejian next week.

The bill prohibits sale of 40 specific weapons as of next Jan. 1, but it allows owners of such weapons who can show that they purchased the guns before June 1 to keep the firearms if they register them with the state by Jan. 1, 1991.

Flurry of Purchases

Gun dealers from the Oakland area to Santa Rosa to Southern California reported a flurry of assault weapon purchases Friday following news that the Legislature had passed the bill.

"It caused another wave of sales," said Robert Beeman, president of Beeman Precision Arms Inc. in Santa Rosa.

Beeman, who said he has only half a dozen assault weapons left in his retail store, rated the latest sales rush as mild compared to the onslaught of customers last winter. That crush of buyers came when efforts to ban assault weapons were stepped up following the Jan. 17 slayings of five Stockton schoolchildren by a deranged drifter with an AK-47.

In Southern California, at Coburn's Discount Guns in Fontana, owner Gerald Coburn reported a 50% increase in assault weapons sales on Friday following passage of the new gun legislation.

'Honest People' Affected

"The people that are buying them, the honest people, are the ones that are being affected by this," complained an angry Coburn. "I doubt if gang members are worrying if the guns are legal when they're dealing . . . millions of dollars worth of drugs."

Coburn said that he is sick of "liberal" California politicians and plans to open a gun shop in Nevada where he can legally sell assault weapons.

Even gun dealers who do not handle assault weapons on the proscribed list are unhappy about the new legislation.

"It's a big joke," snapped George Merson, manager of King's Gun Works in Glendale.

"It's unfortunate that our elected officials up in Sacramento don't have the intelligence or foresight to deal with the crime problem without harassing law-abiding citizens."

Fearful of Future

Merson said he does not sell any of the guns on the legislative list, but is fearful that weapons he does sell might be put in the illegal category in the future.

In San Leandro, just south of Oakland, a firearms dealer who has long been the target of gun control advocates because of his cut-rate sales, said he is once again doing a brisk business in assault weapons.

"The guns are moving very, very good because of the current publicity," said Tony Cucchiara, owner of The Trader's gun store, which claims to have the largest selection of firearms in California.

Cucchiara agreed with Beeman of Santa Rosa that the current surge of assault weapons customers does not compare to the rush following the Stockton tragedy when his sales of AK-47s jumped from a half-dozen to 30 per week and he boosted the price of the weapons from $399 to $895.

"I don't know why they want to ban them," Cucchiara said. "I think anybody that wants one already owns one. . . .

'Bought Them Legally'

"I don't know why they (his customers) should have to register them," he continued. "They bought them legally. They're law abiding citizens. The criminals won't register them."

In Oakland, Police Sgt. Robert K. Stewart, who was instrumental in the statewide drive to ban assault weapons, is in a mood to celebrate. Still, he has no illusions that his city's drug dealers are going to turn in their AK-47s and Uzis.

"I think that now that these weapons won't be replaced," Stewart said, "we're going to see a drying up of the assault weapons over the next five years."

Stewart said he does not think that the supply of assault weapons will be replenished from neighboring states, where their sale remains legal, because bringing the weapons into California carries a risk of being sent to prison under the new legislation.

Far to the south of Oakland's mean streets, police working in the even crueler world of South-Central Los Angeles also see a glimmer of hope in the new legislation.

A Needed Step

"I think it is one step that needs to be taken to rid this particular community of those kinds of weapons," said Detective Jerry Johnson, who deals with gangs in the Los Angeles Police Department's 77th Division.

Johnson noted that some of the weapons to be banned can fire dozens of rounds of ammunition without reloading and some are powerful enough to send bullets ripping through the walls of houses to kill innocent people.

"In days past, when gang members used . . . Saturday Night Specials . . . they were accurate enough with those weapons to kill people. Now, it's getting ridiculous. . . .

"I don't think it will take guns away from gang members right away," he continued. "Hopefully, it's going to cut off the supply."

Johnson said he is hopeful that word of heavy prison sentences for using assault weapons under the new legislation will filter out to the streets.

Not Sure What to Expect

He is hopeful, but not sure what to expect.

"I think," he mused, "this is going to cause the guns in the possession of gang members to be even more valuable to them."

Johnson is right about that, according to a member of the Crips' Four Trey gang, who asked not to be identified.

"It used to be," he said, "that if one Crip killed somebody, they'd sell (the assault weapon) to somebody else. (Now) they'll just keep them, because it's going to be hard to get another one."

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