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VALLEY NEWS

L. A. Councilman Seeks to Restrict Gun Sales

Weapons: Police believe that 'straw buyers' purchase multiple guns for third parties who use them illegally.

November 11, 1998|JILL LEOVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles police have always assumed that most of the several thousand handguns they confiscate from criminals each year were once stolen from legal owners.

But more recent studies have turned up a surprise: Only about 10% to 15% of guns recovered from crimes had been stolen.

LAPD detectives believe that up to one-third of guns recovered from crimes are purchased by so-called "straw buyers," who buy multiple guns to supply to third parties who use them illegally.

Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Feuer made a motion Tuesday aimed at reining in straw buyers by limiting purchases of handguns from gun shops in the city to just one per customer per month.

"Gun violence is obviously a scourge in our communities, and one of the keys to preventing gun violence is keeping the weapons out of the hands of criminals," Feuer said. "We know that straw purchasers put guns in the hands of criminals who otherwise couldn't get them."

Although federal laws require gun shops to report multiple sales, buyers can purchase as many guns as they want at one time.

"Lots of gangbangers send their girlfriends in. They are 22 years old and they buy five or six or seven guns of the same make and model," LAPD Det. Steve Mulldorfer said. "They are not a gun collector, so something's up. A big flag should go up here."

The motion is opposed by the National Rifle Assn.

There are already mechanisms in the law to curb illegal gun sales, said Ed Worley, California grass-roots coordinator for the NRA.

He said the law would hurt collectors and lawful gun buyers, and said the LAPD would more effectively wipe out gun crime by cracking down on illegal sales.

The motion "sounds good when you say it fast, but how will they enforce it?" he asked. "Mr. Feuer is blowing smoke and saying, 'Look, I'm trying to do something.' He is trying to get his name in the paper."

The motion asks police and legislative analysts to return to the council in 30 days with a proposal for an ordinance limiting handgun purchases to one per month.

The motion is similar to a bill that recently failed to advance through the California Legislature, but would apply only to shops in the city of Los Angeles, Mulldorfer said.

Virginia, Maryland and South Carolina have adopted similar laws, Feuer said.

One problem that has yet to be worked out is how to track compliance. One suggestion is for gun shop owners to cross-check sales against their records from the previous month. Another is to cross-check sales against existing lists kept by justice officials to comply with federal tracking laws.

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