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Gun Clip Job--It's Only a Baby Step : Roberti legislation would ban high-volume magazines in rifles, pistols and shotguns

July 18, 1993

When Gian Luigi Ferri unleashed a fusillade on innocent men and women working at a San Francisco law office July 1, he was able to fire 50 rounds from each of his two semiautomatic pistols without stopping to reload.


There is just no valid reason for any private citizen to have such an awesome capability. It constitutes a clear and present danger to public safety and exceeds the firepower possessed by almost all law enforcement officers. Yet disgracefully, such weaponry is available for legal purchase in California by most people.

A bit--though only a bit--of this destructive threat would be removed by a bill that has been before the Legislature since March. The measure would ban all high-volume detachable magazines for pistols, rifles and shotguns. Authored by state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Van Nuys), the bill would limit magazines to 10 bullets in rifles, 17 bullets in pistols and six shells in shotguns.

Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren calls the bill a "step in the right direction." But it's only a baby step. In the first place, no one needs a clip of as many as 17 bullets to pursue time-honored activities such as hunting, target shooting and collecting. Indeed, Roberti originally proposed stricter limits but had to increase the figure when he wasn't able to muster enough support in the Legislature. In the second place, weapons of the kind that the bill is directed against have no legitimate place in society.

All those weapons should have been outlawed--across the board--by the Legislature back in 1989 after a horrific shooting at a Stockton elementary school left five children dead and 30 others wounded. But the trademark intimidation of legislators by the National Rifle Assn. altered the assault ban from a more rational and practical blanket prohibition--defining assault weapons by features such as short barrels, pistol grips, folding stocks and high-volume detachable magazines--to a banned list of more than 60 specified weapons.

Lungren and the Legislature should work to close this deadly loophole in the Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, a loophole that allows gun manufacturers to circumvent that list by altering, or sometimes merely renaming, military-style firearms.

A court injunction has prevented the attorney general from adding weapons such as the TEC-DC-9, the model used by Ferri, and the Colt Sporter, a weapon banned in Connecticut, where it is manufactured.

Weapons that hold 30, 50, even 100 bullets have no place in California. Whether Ferri's eight victims become symbols of progress on gun control or symbols of more political indifference will depend on the courage and resolve of the California Legislature.

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