Gun Control Bill Aimed at Street Gangs Moves Ahead
The Assembly Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday approved an anti-street gang bill that would allow felony prosecution of minors charged with possessing handguns and other concealable firearms.
The measure, by Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), cleared the committee on a 12 to 6 vote and went to the floor over the opposition of the politically powerful National Rifle Assn.
Support for the bill was voiced by representatives of Los Angeles-based United Neighborhood Organization (UNO), the South Central Organizing Committee and Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp.
Edith Nealey, UNO chairwoman, told the committee, “Gunshots are so common in our community that the citizens don’t bother to call the police anymore. We are experts at patching up our wounded and burying our dead and we need this law to save our lives.”
Currently it is a misdemeanor for a minor to possess a concealable firearm. It is also a misdemeanor to sell any firearm to a minor without the consent of the youth’s parents.
The bill would give authorities the discretion to charge the youth with either the present misdemeanor or a felony, which would carry a 16-month to three-year sentence and a $1,000 fine. The same would apply to someone who sold a gun to a minor.
A police officer now must see the youth’s firearm before making an arrest. Under the bill, the officer could make a felony arrest for probable cause without actually seeing the gun.
Both the National Rifle Assn. and another pro-gun organization, United Sportsmen, opposed the penalty increases.
Debate arose when United Sportsmen representative Kent DeChambeau insisted that the penalty for possessing a concealable firearm ought not to be made stiffer. He said, “It is a misdemeanor now because there are people with legitimate reasons for carrying weapons, like hunting.”
But Randy Rossi, representing the attorney general, replied, “There are exemptions (in the bill) for hunting and target practice. You do not hunt with a concealed firearm.”
Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), who usually supports legislation favored by gun rights groups, surprised the hearing when he voted for the measure.
He told DeChambeau that members of United Sportsmen “are burying your heads in the sand” by failing to recognize the extent of the violence occurring in the state.