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Ban on Sale of Small Handguns Backed

Council: Proposal targeting the weapons is endorsed by public safety panel and could be voted on Wednesday.

March 20, 2001|PATRICK McGREEVY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Despite opposition by gun owners, a Los Angeles City Council panel Monday took aim at small handguns known as "pocket rockets" that are often used in crimes, recommending that the weapons' sales be banned in Los Angeles.

The proposal by Councilman Mike Feuer to prohibit the sale of handguns 6.75 inches in length or smaller and 4.5 inches or smaller in height was endorsed Monday by the council's Public Safety Committee and sent to the full council for a possible vote on Wednesday.

"There is a reason the police chief, the Police Department's Gun Unit and the Police Commission all support this motion," Feuer said. "These guns we are seeking to prohibit are commonly used in crimes precisely because they are so compact and concealable."

Similar ordinances have already been adopted in Oakland and San Francisco.

The City Council has adopted more than half a dozen other gun regulations in recent years, including a ban on the sale of cheap handguns known as "Saturday night specials," a prohibition on the sale of assault weapons, a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunition clips, a measure limiting purchases of guns, a mandate that trigger locks be installed on all guns sold in the city and a requirement that anyone buying ammunition provide a thumbprint to gun-store owners.

Councilwoman Cindy Miscikowski, the committee chairwoman, said she was moved by what she said is the "striking" statistic that among the top 10 semiautomatic firearms traced by police in Los Angeles in 1998, the compact guns targeted by the ordinance made up 56% of the weapons recovered by officers.

"It indicates these have been, probably due to their concealability, significantly the weaponry that has been involved in crimes," Miscikowski said.

California already prohibits the carrying of concealed handguns in public without a permit.

Although few permits are issued in Los Angeles, Feuer told the council panel that 20% of the guns sold in Los Angeles are compact guns that are marketed for their concealability.

The ordinance was also supported in testimony by Carolann Taylor of the group Women Against Gun Violence. Taylor said her only son was killed in 1992 by an assailant with a small handgun.

"The proliferation of guns and the easy accessibility to the guns is directly related to the tragic homicide rate," Taylor said.

A dozen people testified against the ordinance, saying it is unreasonable.

"It's a ridiculous law," said John J. Schaefer, a gun owner. "All it does is disarm us--the decent, law-abiding citizens.

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Another gun owner, Gene Snyder, said the ordinance should be renamed the "Criminal Home Invasion Protection Ordinance."

Jennifer Williams, who said she has been a crime victim, said she prefers a smaller gun with a grip that fits her small hands.

"The firearm I feel comfortable with would be banned under this ordinance," she told the panel.

Merrill Gibson, representing disabled members of the National Rifle Assn., agreed that some women and disabled people need smaller guns of the kind that would be prohibited under the ordinance.

"It is widely known that disabled people are a preferred target of violent criminals," Gibson said.

Chuck Michel, an attorney with the California Rifle and Pistol Assn., predicted there would be a court challenge to the measure if the council approves it.

Michel asserted it is not coincidence that the proposal is coming up to a vote as Feuer's campaign for city attorney winds toward the April 10 election, but Feuer said he originally proposed the measure two years ago and it has since then been studied and refined by the Los Angeles Handgun Task Force.

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