For more than a decade and a half, Los Angeles has banned the sale of "ultracompact" guns, which lawmakers feared could be more easily hidden by criminals.
Now the city is poised to eliminate that rule in the face of legal warnings from the National Rifle Assn. and the California Rifle & Pistol Assn., which say that the city restrictions have been preempted by state law.
L.A.'s longstanding ban prohibits firearm dealers in the city from selling smaller guns that measure up to 6.75 inches in length and 4.5 inches in height, as well as holsters to carry them.
It also requires dealers to keep records of any sales of ultracompact guns to police officers and other buyers who are not covered by the ban.
Banning sales of ultracompact guns was championed by gun control groups such as Women Against Gun Violence and City Atty. Mike Feuer, who was serving as a city councilman when the law was passed in 2001.
"These concealable, compact weapons are the weapons of choice for criminals," Feuer said when the council voted to back the law.
The Violence Policy Center, a research group focused on preventing gun violence, also warned that the portability of "pocket rockets" raised the risk that previously lawful gun owners could misuse them in "moments of anger, depression, or other emotional instability." Oakland and San Francisco had already passed similar rules when L.A. lawmakers adopted their ban.
Gun rights groups opposed the ban, arguing that the law would hurt women and disabled gun owners who need smaller weapons to defend themselves from attackers. One gun owner told city lawmakers that the measure should be renamed the "Criminal Home Invasion Protection Ordinance."
Since then, the NRA and the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. have repeatedly demanded that L.A. abolish the ban.
"We asked them to repeal this because it's preempted by state law that says specifically which handguns gun dealers can and cannot sell in the state of California," said Chuck Michel, attorney for the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. "This local ordinance conflicts with the state law, which allows a few of these handguns to be sold."
The Los Angeles City Council is scheduled to vote on repealing the ban Tuesday.
In response to questions, Feuer spokesman Rob Wilcox said that nobody had ever been prosecuted for breaking the city law. Other jurisdictions have already repealed similar bans, he said.
Wilcox declined to make Feuer available for an interview and said the office could not comment further "as this issue may be subject to litigation."
California law restricts what kind of guns can be sold in the state based on testing and micro-stamping requirements. Fewer than 800 models of handguns are currently allowed to be sold in California, according to a state roster. Wilcox said he did not have information on how many guns on that list would become legal for purchase in L.A. if the city ban were removed.
Although the L.A. ban may be reversed, Women Against Gun Violence Executive Director Margot Bennett said in an emailed statement that "we are confident that Los Angeles is protected by state law, which has significant restrictions around the types of guns that can be purchased."
This is not the first time that gun rights groups have argued that California state law should preempt local restrictions. After L.A. banned the possession of firearm magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. and dozens of county sheriffs from elsewhere in California sued the city, arguing that its ban was preempted by state law.
Since then, however, California voters have passed a ballot measure that outlaws the possession of such ammunition magazines across the state.
That law has also been challenged by gun rights groups, which succeeded in June in getting a federal judge to block the magazine restrictions from going into effect while the court challenges continue.
3:40 p.m.: This article was updated with additional reaction and background.
11:30 a.m.: This article was updated with a response from City Atty. Mike Feuer's spokesman.