A proposed law requiring anyone buying a gun in Los Angeles to first be fingerprinted advanced Monday even as the measure was targeted for opposition by gun merchants and the National Rifle Assn.
The City Council's Public Safety Committee recommended that the ordinance be drafted and sent to the full council for adoption. Councilman Mike Feuer said his proposal would help police and prosecutors track down and jail convicted felons who try to buy guns despite being barred from owning firearms.
"If a dangerous felon is trying, after having been prosecuted and put in prison, to purchase a weapon again, how likely is it that the person is going to do something of a criminal nature?" Feuer asked the committee. "It's extremely likely. We should be finding a way to put those people in jail."
Nearly 5,000 prohibited people attempted to acquire firearms from licensed gun dealers in California in 1999 but were stopped by background checks by the state Department of Justice, Feuer said. Those stopped included 17 people previously convicted of homicide, he said.
Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, the committee chairwoman, agreed that the proposal is a logical next step for the city, which already requires people to give a thumbprint every time they buy ammunition.
The measure was supported by Police Chief Bernard C. Parks and the city attorney's office.
But gun sellers and activists for gun-owner rights said the proposal will add unnecessary red tape and potentially scare legally qualified customers away from buying firearms in Los Angeles.
"It's a bad idea," said Jim Hoag, the owner of Hoag Gun Works in Canoga Park. "We're going to more regulation, which will lead to confiscation. It wouldn't touch felons. The only ones it will affect are law-biding citizens."
Hoag said citizens legally permitted to buy guns but not willing to give their fingerprints to the government may decide to go outside city limits to make their purchase.
Steve Jacobson, who owns a gun store and pawnshop near the Coliseum, said Feuer's proposal is unnecessary because the Department of Justice already blocks sales to felons after checking applications.
"It's just a waste of time," Jacobson said. "There are so many regulations on guns already. A lot of gun stores are going out of business."
Noting that Feuer is running for city attorney, Steve Helsley of the National Rifle Assn. charged that the proposal is an attempt to grab headlines without solving any problems.
As it is, Helsley said, prosecutors don't go to court against felons who are caught trying to buy guns.
"All this is designed to do is harass legitimate gun buyers, because there has never been any inclination to prosecute violators," Helsley said. "This is political posturing. . . ."
Feuer said one reason that he proposed the measure is because of the lack of prosecution of felons who try to buy guns.
The problem, Feuer said, is that without strong physical evidence such as fingerprints, prosecutors are reluctant to go to court against someone who can claim he or she was not the person who filed the application to buy a gun.
Fingerprints would give prosecutors more confidence in filing cases, said Carmel Sella, special assistant city attorney.
Under the proposed measure, fingerprint records would be kept at the merchant's business, not entered into a government database--a provision agreed to in an effort to address complaints about the measure invading privacy.
The fingerprints would be examined only in cases where the state Department of Justice spotted suspicious applications for gun ownership, Sella said.