SACRAMENTO — In a nationally watched gun control case, a federal court judge has thrown out a challenge by the National Rifle Assn. to California's landmark ban on military-style assault weapons.
In a decision made public on Monday, U.S. District Judge Edward Dean Price in Fresno dismissed the lawsuit which sought, among other things, to strike down the 1989 law on grounds it violated the Constitution's 2nd Amendment right to bear arms.
The 25-page ruling dissected the arguments by the NRA and other plaintiffs who claimed they would be "irreparably injured" by enforcement of the law and granted a motion by state Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp to dismiss the challenge.
In doing so, the federal jurist handed the nationwide gun owners organization another reversal in its political and legal efforts to overturn California's assault weapons control law, the first in the nation.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday September 21, 1990 Home Edition Part A Page 3 Column 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Gun ban--A story on Sept. 11 incorrectly listed the Congress of Racial Equality as a supporter of a California law that bans military-style assault weapons. CORE joined the National Rifle Assn. as a friend of the court in seeking to strike down the law.
"We conclude that the Constitution has left the question of gun control to the several states," Judge Price said in examining arguments about the right to bear arms and the rights of states. "There are no federal constitutional provisions that have been offended by this act."
The case, filed by the NRA last winter shortly after the law took effect, had been closely watched by firearms owners, gun control advocates and politicians throughout the nation as the first major legal test of a state's authority to ban semiautomatic firearms.
In Washington, an NRA spokesman said the organization would have no comment until its lawyers had reviewed the decision. A source close to the NRA leadership said, however, the ruling probably will be appealed.
"The court's decision is a tremendous victory for public safety," said Van de Kamp.
The ruling also drew praise from the Washington-based Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, the educational arm of the NRA's chief nemesis, Handgun Control Inc. "The ruling is of national importance because it shows that assault weapon limitations are constitutional and reasonable," said Barbara Lautman, center director
The law was enacted in the wake of the 1989 killings of five children in a Stockton schoolyard by a crazed drifter with an AK-47 assault rifle. The measure bans the manufacture, import, sale, distribution, transfer or loan of about 60 types of semiautomatic rifles, pistols and handguns.
For the first time in California history, it also established a full-fledged gun registration process in which people who legally owned the prohibited arms before June 1, 1989, could keep them by registering the weapons by Jan. 1, 1991.
The assault weapons legislation, which supporters argued helped prod the Bush Administration into prohibiting the importation of certain foreign-made assault guns last year, was fiercely fought in a massive NRA lobbying offensive. Enactment of the bill handed the politically influential NRA a severe defeat in a state where new controls on guns historically have failed.
The bill, by Senate leader David A. Roberti and Assemblyman Mike Roos, both Los Angeles Democrats, narrowly cleared the Legislature and was signed into law by Republican Gov. George Deukmejian, a lifelong opponent of new controls until the Stockton massacre.
Deukmejian, described by intimates as profoundly affected by the Stockton killings, not only supported the assault weapons ban but went on this year to sign a bill extending the existing 15-day waiting period for handgun purchases to all sporting rifles and shotguns. That goes into effect in January, 1991.
Van de Kamp, whose deputy, Daniel G. Stone, led the legal fight to defend the assault gun law, was joined by such "friends of the court" as the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, the California Police Chiefs Assn., the National Assn. of Police Organizations and the Congress of Racial Equality.
In addition to the NRA, plaintiffs included the Fresno Rifle and Pistol Club; nine individuals; the California Rifle and Pistol Assn.; a firearms manufacturer, Springfield Armory Inc., and Heckler and Koch Inc., an importer of guns, including assault weapons.