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Gun, Stem Cell Bills Signed

Gov. Davis approves measures to make semiautomatic pistols safer and advance research on serious diseases.

September 25, 2003|Carl Ingram | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Gray Davis on Wednesday signed legislation intended to protect lives from the accidental firing of handguns and to advance human stem-cell research as a potential way to prevent and cure devastating diseases such as cancer.

Only Massachusetts has a similar gun safety law, but Davis predicted that because California is such a hefty market for guns, the new statute would force manufacturers to redesign semiautomatic pistols for sale not only in California but throughout the nation.

Both bills headed a tall stack of legislation Davis approved or announced he would soon sign, including additional steps to protect personal privacy and to guard the California coast against contamination from the discharge of waste by big ships.

In contrast with previous years, when the governor almost always kept his intentions secret until the last minute, the signings were widely publicized by his office and press agents for his anti-recall campaign committee.

Davis has until Oct. 12, five days after the scheduled Oct. 7 recall election, to act on all bills approved by the Legislature before it recessed for this year.

The leading gun bill (SB 489) requires that, starting in 2006, new semiautomatic pistols sold in California be equipped with a mechanism that clearly shows whether the pistol is loaded and ready to fire or carry a device that prevents it from being discharged when the ammunition magazine is removed.

By 2007, such firearms must contain both safety devices. The bill is designed to prevent accidental deaths and wounding by guns that are mistakenly believed to be empty, but actually contain a bullet hidden in the firing chamber.

Parents of young gunshot victims cheered at a small rally on the Capitol steps when Davis' signature was announced by Highway Patrol Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick. The parents said that if the bill by Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena) had been law earlier, their children would be alive.

A spokesman for the National Rifle Assn., which opposed the legislation, questioned whether technology is available that would perform as the "broadly written bill" would require.

"This technology has not been developed enough to be in mass production," said spokesman Andrew Arulanandam.

Davis signed several other gun measures, including one that will prohibit possession of a firearm by someone under a court restraining order in elder abuse cases.

But the package of bills to more firmly establish California as the stem-cell research center of the world drew most of Davis' attention. At one point, he spoke emotionally of the personal sadness that he and his wife, Sharon, had experienced when her mother died recently of complications from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease. The governor's mother is fighting lung cancer.

The research bills by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), whose mother died of cancer, had been fought by churches and religious organizations as was a pioneering bill she had carried last year that authorized the use of human embryos in stem-cell research in California.

Many antiabortion activists oppose the use of human stem-cell research on moral grounds. They fear that in extreme cases, scientists may throw aside ethical and legal standards in uncontrolled experiments that might lead to a creation of life.

At a bill signing ceremony at the cancer center of the medical school at UC Davis, the governor admonished opponents to get out of the way of stem-cell research that offers "hope and opportunity" to victims of the most devastating of diseases, including cancer and diabetes.

He said opponents of human embryo stem-cell research may choose not to accept its "benefits" for themselves but demanded that they not "stand in the way of other Californians whose lives are enhanced and improved and have been saved because of this phenomenal research."

He described opponents as "religious and conservative political opportunists," but did not identify them by name. Davis noted, however, that President Bush had sharply reduced the number of stem cell lines for which federal research funds are allocated, a move applauded by some church and religious groups.

California last year went against the grain of the White House by enacting a pioneering law that authorized the use of virtually any stem cell for medical and health-care research purposes.

One bill (SB 322) signed by Davis will start a process to establish ethical and legal standards to govern stem-cell research. A second bill (SB 771) establishes a registry of anonymous embryos available to scientists for their research.

The governor also signed a package of environmental protection bills, including a pair of measures by Democratic Assemblymen Joe Simitian of Palo Alto and George Nakano of Torrance, which add new restrictions on the discharge by ships of wastes into coastal waters. The bills (AB 121 and AB 906) were opposed by cruise lines, whose lobbying weakened the proposals from their original form.

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