Deukmejian Switches, Backs Stiffer Gun Law

Times Staff Writer

In a significant policy shift, California Gov. George Deukmejian on Thursday called for tougher controls on guns, saying he would support an expansion of the state’s 15-day waiting period for handgun purchases to cover all firearms, including rifles and shotguns used by hunters.

Asked if he would endorse an outright ban on military-style weapons, such as the AK-47 assault rifle used in the Stockton elementary school shootings, Deukmejian said he wants to study the issue, but added: “I think most people would agree that there probably is no need to have any kind of military-type assault weapon available for the average citizen . . . even somebody who’s a sportsman or a hunter.”

During a wide-ranging press conference, Deukmejian, who is in Washington for the inauguration festivities, also revealed that he would have accepted a vice presidential bid from President-elect George Bush last summer if a Republican lieutenant governor had been in office to serve out the remainder of his term, instead of Democrat Leo McCarthy.


In a preview of the comments he will make next week to business leaders he plans to meet on a visit to Germany and Switzerland, Deukmejian discussed the growing U.S.-European trade conflicts and the detrimental effect they could have on the California economy.

In the past, Deukmejian has either opposed or taken no position on major gun-control proposals. During his 1982 campaign, he strongly opposed Proposition 15, which would have banned the sale of most handguns in California. Earlier, as attorney general, he concluded in an advisory opinion that cities were preempted by state law from banning handgun sales.

Last year, Deukmejian did not endorse legislation that would have restricted the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons, many of which are made in China, the Soviet Union or Eastern European nations. The governor noted Thursday, however, that there was little support for such a proposal in the Legislature and that it eventually died.

Now, in the aftermath of the Stockton shootings, Deukmejian predicted that a similar measure would be reintroduced this year. He pledged to work with the Legislature to pass it, so long as it does not impinge on the rights of sportsmen and hunters.

“I, just for the life of me, cannot see why anybody who is going to use a gun just for sporting purposes would want or would need to have a military assault-type weapon that is produced and is used by Communist countries,” the governor said.

Comments Hailed

Deukmejian’s comments were hailed by state Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who said he would introduce a bill later this month to ban the sale of semiautomatic weapons, such as the AK-47. The governor’s comment, he said, “is a very positive statement . . . and a major boost to pushing this legislation through.”

Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, a leading Democratic candidate for governor in 1990, also added his voice Thursday to the growing chorus of demands for a ban on the weapons. Displaying an AK-47 and an Israeli-made Uzi at a press conference in Los Angeles, he said he would work for passage of legislation that would outlaw such rifles.

There are few restrictions now on purchases of such weapons. In California and other states, buyers need only fill out a simple federal form and present standard identification. Police do not typically perform background checks on prospective buyers of the guns, which have become increasingly popular with gang members and drug dealers across the nation.

Background Checks

Asked about expansion of the state’s 15-day waiting period for handgun purchases to all firearms, so that police could conduct background checks, Deukmejian said: “I personally don’t have any problem with that. I don’t have any problem with preventing those individuals (with criminal records or mental problems) from having possession of any kind of a gun.”

In other comments, Deukmejian said he would have been “very receptive” to a vice presidential offer last summer if he would not have had to surrender the governorship to a Democrat.

Deukmejian, who recently proposed that the state Constitution be amended to require a party’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor to run as a ticket, said he had to remove himself from consideration because the lieutenant governor was from the opposite party. He added, however, that the issue had no bearing on his decision not to run for a third term.

His comment on the matter seemed to conflict with previous statements that no job in Washington has ever held an interest for him. During an interview with The Times last July, for example, Deukmejian said, “I’ve never had any great desire to hold a national office” or had much of “an interest in federal issues.”

As for the vice presidency, he said last year, “I wouldn’t be eager to have to take on the kinds of responsibilities that go along with the office.”

Next week, Deukmejian is scheduled to visit with German and Swiss business leaders to discuss trade friction between the United States and European nations. The controversy, heightened by recent European refusals to permit imports of U.S. beef treated with growth hormones, has also reached a point where Europeans are threatening to boycott U.S. dried fruits and nuts, many of which are produced in California.

The governor, who will meet with U.S. Treasury and trade officials before beginning his meetings, said Thursday that the dispute’s negative impact on the California economy would be a prime topic.

“This visit will give me an opportunity at least to express to those individuals . . . the dangers that are involved in the beginnings of this kind of retaliatory action when it comes to the field of trade,” Deukmejian said.