An Assembly committee on Monday approved major legislation--supported by law enforcement officials and opposed by the National Rifle Assn.--to put such deadly military-type semiautomatic firearms as the Uzi beyond the reach of most Californians.
The weapons can now be easily purchased at gun stores without a background check of the purchaser and can be quickly converted into fully automatic machine guns by drug traffickers and other criminals, witnesses told the Assembly Public Safety Committee.
The committee endorsed the measure by Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco) on a 4-3 vote following a long hearing during which unusual security measures were imposed, including requiring members of the public to pass through a metal-detector before entering the hearing room.
Members of the Assembly's sergeant-at-arms staff said the additional security, including the posting of state police officers in the hallway, was decided upon because unloaded firearms were displayed at the hearing and for "crowd control."
Back Anti-Gang Bill
The committee also endorsed, on a 4-2 vote, an anti-street gang measure by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) that would allow authorities to charge a youth with a felony for possessing a concealable weapon without parental consent. Currently, the crime is a misdemeanor.
Under the Waters bill, sponsored by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, prosecutors and judges could decide whether the youth should be charged with a misdemeanor or a felony punishable by up to three years in prison.
The Waters measure also was opposed as unnecessary by the gun lobby, including Ray Arnett, Washington-based executive vice president of the politically powerful National Rifle Assn., who came to Sacramento for the hearing. It was supported by the fledgling Californians Against Handgun Violence and a platoon of representatives of law enforcement organizations.
However, the Agnos measure, which would virtually outlaw semiautomatic military assault-type weapons in California, drew the heaviest fire from the gun lobby.
Basically, it would make it illegal to manufacture, import, sell, transport or transfer an "assault firearm" or their ammunition magazines. Persons who now own them could keep them, but anyone else would be required to obtain a special, difficult-to-obtain permit from the attorney general.
The permit would be the same as that issued for machine guns. Currently, those with such permits are film makers and weapons designers.
But Arnett asserted that the voters spoke clearly when they defeated Proposition 15, a handgun control measure, in 1982, "and now we're back discussing the same issue that we were back then."
However, Agnos and law enforcement witnesses insisted that the military-style semiautomatic weapons that are capable of firing 20 rounds in two to three seconds have no "legitimate" sporting purpose and are legally flooding California markets where they have become favorites of drug dealers and other lawbreakers.
"The only use for assault weapons is to shoot people," Agnos told the committee, noting that the killing of 21 people at a McDonald's restaurant in San Ysidro last year was done by James Huberty firing a semiautomatic Uzi, an Israeli military gun.
The weapons can be converted and sold to civilians in California and other states. Separate kits can be purchased to make them fully automatic machine guns, which, with certain exceptions, are illegal in California.
No Background Checks
Unlike procedures in retail handgun sales in California, the Department of Justice is not required to make a personal background check on the purchaser of "assault firearms," and the buyer is not required to wait for about two weeks before taking possession of the gun.
"It's cash and carry," Agnos said of sales of such weapons as the Uzi, Mac 10 and others.
"These are weapons of war," testified San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara. "They are meant to kill people. There are plenty of them roaming around California; . . . (police officers') .357 magnums are like popguns compared to these."
But opponents charged that the bill constitutes "the first step" toward total elimination of all firearms in California. They conceded that such military weapons are not used for hunting but added that they should not be outlawed merely because they can be easily converted.