Legislation intended to limit the easy availability of Uzis and other military-type assault weapons was narrowly approved and sent to the Assembly floor on Tuesday over opposition from the California gun lobby.
The Assembly Ways and Means Committee approved the measure 12 to 8, after its author, Assemblyman Art Agnos (D-San Francisco), charged that an array of semiautomatic assault firearms had become “the weapons of choice” of drug dealers and some street gangs.
“It’s happening and it’s an epidemic out there,” Agnos declared.
Although law enforcement officials have no estimates of how many assault firearms are in circulation, Agnos said there are “tens of thousands” and noted that an Uzi was used in the killing of 21 people last year at a McDonalds restaurant in San Ysidro, Calif.
The Agnos bill would extend the controls on machine guns to an array of assault firearms and their ammunition magazines.
In a concession to the gun lobby, Agnos agreed to alter his bill to apply only to firearms specifically designed for conversion to fully automatic machine guns. Some gun owners had complained that the measure, as first drawn, could also be applied to an array of handguns and other common firearms that can be altered but were not designed as assault weapons.
The bill, as it emerged from the committee, was fairly narrow in scope. Agnos conceded that manufacturers could get around its provisions by redesigning guns so that they do not appear to be assault weapons.
Moreover, the bill would not affect those who already own such weapons as the Uzi, but the owners would have to register them with the state.
State law prohibits the sale or ownership of fully automatic firearms, such as machine guns, without a permit from the state Justice Department. However, the law does not apply to semiautomatic weapons such as Israeli-produced Uzis, which are readily available at gun stores and can easily be converted into fully automatic weapons capable of firing 20 rounds in two or three seconds.
The changes in Agnos’ bill did little to overcome opposition from the gun lobby, which consistently has opposed efforts to enact gun control laws. The measure, sponsored by Californians Against Handgun Violence, was supported by various law enforcement organizations, in addition to Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp.
“This (bill) is a beginning step to take firearms out of the hands of the public,” charged Gerald Upholt, lobbyist for the California Wildlife Federation.
In a particularly sharp exchange, Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra), who has sided with the gun lobby on most gun control measures, said anyone who believes that the public ought to be able to own assault weapons is on a “macho psycho trip.”
‘Enough Is Enough’
“There comes a time when enough is enough,” Johnson said. “No law-abiding, rational citizen needs these weapons. They are designed for no other purpose than killing people.”
Johnson, however, abstained from voting Tuesday.
Brian Judy, lobbyist for the Gun Owners of California, said Uzis and other military-type assault weapons are legitimately bought by collectors and used for target shooting and “home protection.”
“They are not used only for killing people,” Judy said.