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Bill Requiring Firearm Safety Courses for Handgun Buyers Passed by Assembly

June 16, 1989|DANIEL M. WEINTRAUB | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — After a short but heated debate, the Assembly on Thursday passed and sent to the Senate legislation that would require Californians to demonstrate their knowledge of firearm safety before purchasing a pistol, revolver or other concealable weapon.

The Assembly's 42-29 vote, which fell mostly along party lines, came after a Republican opponent of the bill compared the proposed law to the police-state repression in the People's Republic of China.

The measure by Assemblyman Rusty Areias (D-Los Banos) would require gun buyers to show their familiarity with firearm safety by completing a two-hour course certified by the state or by passing a test administered by the Fish and Game Department.

Offered Twice a Week

The classes would be offered at least twice a week at locations throughout the state. A $15 course fee and a $20 charge to receive the safety certificate would finance the program without cost to the taxpayer.

Transfer or sale of a concealable weapon to a person who did not have a validated safety certificate would be a misdemeanor.

Police officers, active duty military personnel, some retired law enforcement officials and licensed firearms dealers would be exempted from the requirement. Also exempted would be hunters, who must already demonstrate competence in gun safety to receive a hunting license.

Areias said his bill would simply require buyers of concealed weapons to show the same knowledge of guns that the state requires of hunters.

"The inequity is if you want to get a hunter's license, you have to certify that you've passed a hunter's safety course," Areias said. "But if you want to buy an easily concealed weapon, you don't have to demonstrate any familiarity with that weapon."

Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), one of the National Rifle Assn.'s strongest allies in the Assembly, compared Areias' proposal to the repression in Communist China.

McClintock said the measure's purpose was to "establish government control over the purchasers of all firearms" in the state.

"That is the policy that the government of China has employed for some time," McClintock said. "That is the policy that denied the students at Tian An Men Square the opportunity to defend their liberties and their freedoms."

McClintock's comments prompted howls of protests from Democrats, who demanded that he apologize. He refused.

Furor Brushed Aside

Areias, though, brushed aside the furor and said his bill would improve safety without compromising the rights of gun buyers, who would be able to take the required courses during the already mandated 15-day waiting period. Areias said states that have implemented gun safety requirements have shown a decrease in accidental gun deaths. He did not provide any figures to support his contention.

The bill moves to the Senate where its prospects are uncertain amid heavy lobbying by pro-gun organizations. Although no Assembly Republicans voted for the bill, a moderate Republican--Sen. Marian Bergeson of Newport Beach--is listed as a co-author of the legislation.

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