SACRAMENTO — Californians may not be required to register their handguns in the near future, but they may have to prove they know how to handle them.
A day after a state Assembly committee killed a sweeping proposal to license gun owners and register their firearms, the full Assembly on Thursday overwhelmingly approved legislation requiring gun buyers to demonstrate they can safely operate the weapons.
The bill by Assemblyman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) represents the latest trickle in a flood of gun control legislation flowing from the Legislature. It still must be approved by the state Senate, and it remains to be seen whether it, or any new gun bill, will garner the signature of Gov. Gray Davis.
Davis has called for a moratorium on new gun control laws in 2000 to gauge the effectiveness of the major gun laws he signed last year. But this is an election year, and some lawmakers have pressed on, fearful of losing momentum at a time when opinion polls find voters increasingly disturbed by shootings at schools and workplaces.
The proposal by Honda, a congressional candidate, would require anyone purchasing a handgun to show the dealer they possess a basic understanding of how to load and unload the weapon and operate its safety mechanisms.
If the buyer lacked that knowledge, the seller would have to teach it on the spot before the purchase could take place. The seller would have to report the success of the demonstration to the state Department of Justice.
State law already requires prospective gun buyers to show dealers they have obtained a basic firearms safety certificate, and dealers to report that to the state. To obtain the certificate, a gun buyer must participate in safety courses, usually lasting from two to four hours, that teach the safe use, handling and storage of weapons.
Honda and other supporters said a little extra assurance could only help.
"There is no state exam that you could write that would cover 3,000 to 4,000 different types of firearms," said Assemblyman Roderick Wright (D-Los Angeles). ". . . You have to help people with their guns, just like any other appliance they might purchase."
Although the bill sailed through the Assembly floor with little debate or opposition, some members questioned whether a law that placed the regulatory burden on a person profiting from a gun transaction made sense.
"Should someone whose motivation is to sell this gun be the person to make this judgment?" asked Audie Bock (I-Piedmont).
Gun merchants remain divided on its merits. Although many dealers already show prospective buyers how to use guns, some fear a requirement that they do so would open them up to lawsuits from gun owners who have accidents and injure themselves or others.
Honda has told gun groups he will try to address the issue before the bill is heard in the Senate, possibly by exempting dealers from liability.
"Most of what this bill does, dealers do already," said Gerald H. Upholt of the California Rifle and Pistol Assn. "We had some concerns. But it looks like as this bill moves along, it will be amended to a form we would not oppose."
Collectors of antique guns lobbied some legislators to support Honda's bill because it clarifies that old guns are exempt from some new safety regulations approved in last year's rush of gun laws.