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Panel OKs Ban on Sale of .50-Caliber Guns

May 28, 2003|Richard Winton | Times Staff Writer

A ban on the sale of .50-caliber guns passed the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously Tuesday, the latest in a series of measures designed to ban or limit the availability of weapons and ammunition in the city.

Police could not cite any instances in which the powerful weapons have been used to commit crimes in Los Angeles.

Commission President Rick Caruso said the ban, if passed by the Los Angeles City Council, will ensure that the weapons are harder to find. Such a weapon can pierce concrete from more than 400 yards and inflict damage over far greater distances, commissioners were told.

Chief William J. Bratton said the rifles and the new Model 500 pistol introduced by Smith & Wesson are a menace. He said he strongly supports the sales ban.

"It reinforces the total insanity of gun manufacturers in America," Bratton said.

The sale of .50-caliber rifles and the Smith & Wesson .50-caliber handgun would be outlawed.

Los Angeles is in the forefront of a debate over these high-powered weapons, one that has gained steam after the 9/11 attacks as gun control groups have expressed fear that they could end up in the hands of terrorists.

A similar proposal was defeated in the state Legislature last year. Los Angeles has enacted a series of gun control measures, including bans on the sale of assault weapons, "Saturday night special" handguns and high-capacity ammunition clips, a requirement that firearms sold be equipped with trigger locks and a prohibition on the purchase of more than one gun a month.

John Burtt, chairman of the Fifty-Caliber Shooters Policy Institute, said the ordinance is the latest effort to "demonize" a weapon typically used by range-target shooters and big-game hunters. If enacted, he said, the ordinance will hurt a small group of specialized gun owners in Los Angeles who, like him, use the weapon on 1,000-yard firing ranges.

"These are very expensive guns. They've never been used in a crime in California ... in over 30 years," Burtt said.

Burtt, a former Riverside police marksman, said the weight, size and expense of the guns mean that such weapons are not what criminals choose. The 5-foot rifles cost more than $3,000 and weigh at least 28 pounds, he said. The Smith & Wesson pistol is in the $1,000 range, and is so large that it is hard to conceal.

Los Angeles City Council members last year directed City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo to draft an ordinance to ban the sale and civilian possession of the .50-caliber rifles. In approving that motion, council members cited a 1995 Rand study for the Air Force that .50-caliber sniper rifles present potential threats to Air Force bases, oil pipelines and port facilities

Delgadillo added a section to address the new .50-caliber pistol.

"Anyone who thinks this gun is going to be used for hunting is correct," Delgadillo said. "It is going to be used for hunting humans."

Under the proposal, law enforcement and some permitted federal firearms dealers would be exempt, as would those employing the firearms in museums or as movie props. The proposed law also would not apply to so-called curio or relic weapons, or any gun made before 1899. Large-caliber weapons have existed since colonial times.

Last year, Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) tried to make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess such weapons in California.

That bill failed to win enough support after Burtt and other gun owners fought the legislation.

Koretz is promoting a bill this year that would require owners of .50-caliber weapons to register them.

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