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Supervisors Target Handgun Sales in Bid to Curb Violence

Firearms: Aside from proposed ban on Saturday night specials, county board seeks to amend codes to restrict dealers. NRA vows to challenge actions.

March 12, 1997|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stepping into the political cross hairs of the powerful gun lobby, a divided Board of Supervisors approved several measures Tuesday aimed at curbing gun violence in Los Angeles County and banning so-called Saturday night specials.

The measures, promoted by Board Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky, are in some respects symbolic, but they will also result in the adoption of several more restrictive ordinances regarding the use and purchase of guns.

"This is a significant step forward in our efforts to reduce and prevent the violence and crime associated with the proliferation of firearms in our society," Yaroslavsky said. "What we're doing is trying to declare war on handgun violence in our county. It is an epidemic, the biggest cause of the death of people under the age of 35 and one that costs this county over $60 million a year."

Aside from instructing county lawyers to draft an ordinance banning the sale of the small-caliber Saturday night specials in unincorporated areas, the supervisors also agreed to amend county codes to strengthen their oversight of the sale and distribution of firearms by gun dealers, including a ban on all firearms sales in residential neighborhoods.

Other measures will enhance the safe storage, display and sale of firearms. The supervisors also asked department heads to begin a coordinated analysis of gun-related violence to determine its precise toll on their 9 million constituents.

The board also voted to seek legislation that would overturn state preemption of local firearms regulations, which would allow it to go even further in regulating gun sales and in seeking to reduce gun-related injuries and violence.

The National Rifle Assn. and other gun groups vowed to challenge the supervisors' actions by filing suit against the county or adding the county to current lawsuits against other municipalities that have enacted stringent gun control laws and policies.

"We haven't given up hope that they will listen to reason," NRA lawyer Chuck Michel said of the supervisors. "If they don't, there will be more litigation on these issues."

The NRA and other gun groups sued West Hollywood over its ban on Saturday night specials, which are small and usually locally manufactured handguns made from inferior metals that often backfire or have other safety problems. Although the pro-gun groups lost that suit, they have appealed, and Michel said that state Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren is among those publicly predicting that the gun lobby will ultimately overturn the law.

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Pro-gun groups also have sued the Northern California city of Lafayette over ordinances similar to one passed by Los Angeles County on Tuesday restricting gun dealers, Michel said.

Michel accused the supervisors of engaging in political grandstanding on the issue of gun control, saying their actions "will do nothing to fight violence."

The measures approved by the county did have the support of law enforcement authorities such as Sheriff Sherman Block, who sent Undersheriff Jerry Harper to lobby in support of them.

After hearing pleas for and against the gun control motions, the board quickly approved the motions.

The county's two conservative supervisors, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe, voted against nearly all of the measures. But they were outvoted by Yaroslavsky and his two liberal colleagues, Gloria Molina and Yvonne Brathwaite Burke.

Antonovich voted against all but one measure requiring security checks for gun shop employees. The others, Antonovich said, were "misdirected."

"These are aimed at individuals who abide by the laws," he said.

"We ought to be directing the full thrust of our efforts at making sure those who use guns in [the] commission of crimes receive long mandatory prison sentences. The problem isn't with the law-abiding, it's with the criminal element."

Yaroslavsky said he expected opposition and legal threats from the NRA, but that gun violence has taken too much of a toll on county residents for the supervisors to back down.

"We expect them to legally challenge it. But people are sick and tired of the proliferation of guns and gun violence in our community," Yaroslavsky said.

"The NRA, the gun lobby, is in the '50s and have not changed their tune one iota while the streets of America have become killing fields. Enough is enough. Something must be done."

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