SACRAMENTO — A leading Assembly proponent of gun control on Tuesday derailed, at least temporarily, a fast-track bill that would give owners of unregistered assault weapons 90 days of amnesty to legally record their firearms or risk criminal prosecution.
The Senate-passed "urgency" bill, sponsored by Republican Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren, was introduced because thousands of gun owners failed for a variety of reasons to register their assault weapons by the deadline last Jan. 1.
But liberal Assemblyman John L. Burton (D-San Francisco), chairman of the Assembly Public Safety Committee, told a hearing that he wants at least one more gun added to the state's list of nearly 60 banned assault weapons as the price for his support of the legislation.
Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), the Senate's top advocate of controls on combat-style guns and the author of the bill, protested that an amendment to ban even one more firearm would wreck hopes of quick passage.
"It would kill the bill," he told reporters outside the hearing room. An amendment to add another gun to the list would cut so deeply into support for the legislation that it would not pass in time to take effect this year, Roberti said. He said he introduced the bill because he became convinced that gun owners did not have adequate notice before the registration deadline.
The bill is an urgency measure requiring a two-thirds vote of the Assembly to take effect immediately upon the signature of Gov. Pete Wilson.
Though a friend and often a philosophical ally of Roberti, Burton disagreed that his amendment would jeopardize passage and said he would work toward a compromise by the time the committee meets again next week.
Burton said he wanted the newly marketed Colt Sporter rifle outlawed by the Legislature as an assault rifle rather than leave the task to the courts. Lungren last week sued to ban the Colt Sporter, which he argues is only cosmetically different from the prohibited Colt AR15, the civilian version of the military's M16.
But Burton said, "I think we ought not to be costing the taxpayers a lot of money with a lawsuit."
Department of Justice officials and independent gun experts estimate there are about 300,000 privately owned military-style assault guns in California. As of Tuesday, 35,788 had been registered and another 2,000 applications postmarked before the deadline were being processed.
Owners of assault weapons that they acquired legally before June, 1989, were allowed to keep them if they registered the guns before last Jan. 1. Failure to have done so can result in penalties ranging from a $350 fine to felony prison time.