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New Gun Ban Is Needed

Assault weapons law, under challenge, should be replaced

March 15, 1998

Now that California's 1989 assault weapons ban has come under a legal cloud, it is imperative that the Legislature enact a comprehensive new law prohibiting the manufacture, sale and possession of these killing machines.

The Senate can take a major step in that direction this week by passing AB 23, sponsored by Assemblyman Don Perata (D-Alameda).

The Assembly already has passed the measure, but if the legislation is cleared by the Senate it will have to return to the lower house for approval of Senate amendments. The final stop would be the desk of Gov. Pete Wilson.

The original ban, enacted after five children were killed with an AK-47 assault gun in a Stockton schoolyard in 1989, listed a number of assault weapons by name or model number, such as the AK-47, Uzi and AR-15. More names were added, eventually totaling 75, as arms makers began manufacturing similar guns under different designations.

The Legislature then amended the law to allow the state attorney general to add copycat models to the list as they appeared, with the concurrence of the courts. But the Court of Appeal, ruling in a case brought by Colt Manufacturing Co. in 1991, said this was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power to the judiciary. Then the court said the entire law probably is unconstitutional because it bans some assault weapons but not others that are essentially the same as those on the blacklist.

Atty. Gen. Dan Lungren has advised law officers to continue to enforce the law until the case can be appealed to the state Supreme Court. But there is no need for the Legislature to wait to pass a new law. In fact, it shouldn't. The present law is flawed and needs to be replaced anyway.

Perata's bill would define outlawed weapons generically, according to their concealability, maneuverability and firepower. Those that fell within the definitions would be outlawed, no matter how they were described by the manufacturers.

The National Rifle Assn. has complained that the bill "seeks to ban the mythological class of firearms known as 'assault weapons.' " Really. There is no myth about what these firearms look like, how they work and the amount of destruction they can cause. And when the bill becomes law, there will be no legal question either.

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