Broad Gun Restrictions Proposed : Sen. Watson Calls for Registration, 10% Tax on Purchase

Times Staff Writer

A veteran state Senate Democratic liberal rushed in with reams of proposals Thursday to crack down on firearms and gun ownership in California, including registration of all guns and imposition of a new 10% tax on firearm purchases.

Unlike most recently announced legislation, the package advanced by Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) goes beyond efforts merely to outlaw military assault-type semiautomatic weapons and additionally deals with civilian hunting and recreational arms.

Watson’s proposal posed a special problem for Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who will carry law enforcement’s major gun-control bill of the session. Among other things, his measure would prohibit the manufacture and sale of military semi-automatics, such as the AK-47 that killed five children in Stockton last week.


The Roberti bill faces a major uphill battle in what participants have forecast will be probably the toughest of the session, pitting the National Rifle Assn. and the Gun Owners of California against law enforcement and public safety interests.

In an interview, Roberti said the Watson package of bills is likely to muddy the gun-control waters and contains the ingredients to energize opponents into lumping the various bills together in a massive lobbying campaign that could sink them all.

Asked whether fellow Democrat Watson’s program might damage his own prospects for success, Roberti replied: “It has the potential of diverting attention. . . . We are all working on the same problem, but we are not necessarily endorsing each other’s proposals.”

Traditionally, the reelection conscious Legislature has been loathe to pass gun registration bills. For example, in 1968 the Assembly defeated a gun registration bill introduced after the assassination of U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy. Subsequently, the bill’s author, Assemblyman Winfield A. Shoemaker (D-Lompoc), was defeated for reelection.

Roberti appeared briefly at a press conference Thursday when Watson announced her bills. He never directly addressed her program and left abruptly, telling reporters that “we are not signed off on each other’s solutions.”

Later, he said he did not favor registration of sporting rifles and shotguns or adding a new tax on guns. However, he said that in addition to a prohibition on military semiautomatics, he now favors a 15-day waiting period between the time a purchaser buys any gun and when he or she takes possession of it.

Earlier, he had indicated that he favored a waiting period for semiautomatic rifles only as a fall-back position in case the prohibition legislation failed. A 15-day waiting period has long been required for handguns while the state background investigation is under way.

“All weapons should have a 15-day waiting period,” he said Thursday. Watson, whose district stretches from the edge of South-Central Los Angeles to the beach and includes Inglewood, Hawthorne and Lawndale, said burgeoning street gang and drug problems demand a serious response from the Legislature.

In addition to tightening controls over guns, she said, intensified efforts must be made to combat gang recruiting on school campuses and to create educational and job training programs for gang members and youngsters likely to join gangs. The proposed 10% gun tax would finance gang abatement and drug-trafficking programs.

Flanked at the press conference by Democratic Sens. Ralph C. Dills of Gardena, Herschel Rosenthal of Los Angeles and Wadie P. Deddeh of Chula Vista, Watson said she would hold back on moving at least some of her bills so they would not interfere with Roberti’s legislation.

Asked to rate the prospects for passage of the tax and registration measures, she replied: “I’m not naive enough to think we are going to be able to meet with tremendous success as we push the package of bills. But it is a beginning and it opens up the debate.”

Legislation to outlaw military assault semiautomatic guns also has been proposed by Assemblymen Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Johan Klehs (D-San Leandro).