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California and the West

Gun Curb Push Is Renewed in Capitol

Legislature: Two bills would establish a licensing system for handguns. They are the first since Davis urged a 'timeout' last year.

February 27, 2001|MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — A year after Gov. Gray Davis called for a "timeout" on new gun control laws, Democratic lawmakers are reviving efforts to require the licensing of all handguns in California.

Assembly Majority Leader Kevin Shelley (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation, AB 35, that would establish a licensing system. In the upper house, state Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) has introduced a similar measure, SB 52.

Shelley's bill would require prospective gun owners to demonstrate on a firing range that they could safely use their weapons, and that they know how to perform basic safety tasks such as cleaning the weapon. It also would require thumbprints for identification. Licenses, issued by the California Department of Justice, would be valid for four years.

"It will be a tool to law enforcement," said Bill Hemby of the California Organization of Police and Sheriffs, which represents 5,000 law enforcement officers in the state. "In responding to a domestic violence call, for example, a law enforcement officer would know if there was a gun in the house."

Scott's bill also would require prospective gun owners to take written and field tests to obtain a license, but has slightly different requirements. It would require two sets of fingerprints from applicants instead of thumbprints, for instance.

Currently, anyone interested in buying a gun in California has to pass a written test administered by workers at the gun shop. Gun control advocates want a field test as well, and want both exams to be conducted by police, arguing that testing by those who stand to profit from gun sales makes little sense.

Our society requires people to obtain licenses for their dogs and to fish and drive cars, supporters argue.

"Can we--should we--do anything less with guns?" Shelley asked at a Capitol news conference. He was flanked by representatives of Handgun Control Inc. and the Million Mom March, whose representatives plan a Capitol rally in favor of the bill. "It's time we said no to the kind of laxity that allows gun-related deaths to mount like a plague."

The bills are certain to face opposition from many Republicans and the powerful gun lobby, which argues that California is already deluged with poorly written gun laws that law enforcement has struggled to implement.

Ed Worley, state liaison for the National Rifle Assn., said he has already been talking to law enforcement leaders all over California about Shelley's bill, which he said would create a huge, unfunded bureaucracy for police chiefs and sheriffs to administer.

"All the sheriffs I am talking to are saying, 'You have to be out of your mind,' " Worley said. "How many deputies are you going to need in L.A. County, in the LAPD, just to do this paperwork? Who is going to pay for this?"

Moreover, the bills may meet a cold reception if they reach Davis' desk. Shelley said he believes Davis' moratorium on new gun control laws, voiced by the Democratic governor after the Legislature passed a barrage of gun bills in 1999, is over.

A Davis spokesman said the governor remains wary of more gun laws unless they are requested by law enforcement groups.

"The governor has said on a number of occasions that he is more interested in laws that work, not more laws," said spokesman Roger Salazar. "He hasn't closed the door on any new laws, but he has made clear that he wants feedback on how the existing laws are working from law enforcement."

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