Gun control opponents who jammed the Westminster City Council chambers scored an apparent victory Tuesday night when the council voted to delay indefinitely a proposed ban on the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons.
The 4-1 vote to table the proposed ordinance came after angry testimony, mostly opposing any effort to regulate such weapons. Mayor Charles V. (Chuck) Smith, who said semiautomatic weapons were designed only to kill people, cast the dissenting vote.
An overflow crowd of more than 250 people packed the City Council chambers.
The proposed Westminster ordinance, which would have prohibited the sale of Uzis, AK-47s, M-14s or other assault weapons, was drafted as an emergency ordinance aimed at controlling sales of semiautomatic assault weapons, now that the city of Los Angeles has banned even the possession of such weapons. Some city officials say the weapons pose a serious threat to residents.
Gun-control opponents organized as the Anaheim-based React Committee had threatened Monday to launch recall efforts against council members who supported the ban, and threatened legal action if such an ordinance was passed.
Voting to table the measure were council members Frank Fry Jr., Anita Huseth, Joy L. Neugebauer and Lynn Gillespie.
The one-sided debate against the ordinance was emotional and highly charged, and took place in council chambers that had seats for only 96 people.
Those testifying against the proposed ordinance argued that it was unconstitutional, poorly drafted and would cost the city money to defend against lawsuits.
One gun advocate said: “We have been deceived and lied to by the media. This legislation is an attempt to do away with all weapons.” One placard carried outside the chambers read, “Control criminals not guns.”
Mayor Smith opened the hearing by saying the ordinance was a ban on the sale of semiautomatic rifles only.
“It has nothing to do with the Constitution. I might add that I am a hunter,” Smith told the overflow crowd. “And an ex-Marine gunnery sergeant who served in Korea. As far as I’m concerned these assault rifles are designed to kill people.”
But members of the crowd responded with shouted threats of a recall against the mayor.
Smith said after the council action Tuesday evening that to revive the ordinance, he would need a majority vote of the council. “I don’t think the votes are there,” he said.
The Westminster ordinance calling for the prohibition of sales of assault weapons came in the wake of calls for federal, state and local government bans on the sale of semiautomatic rifles.
Westminster interim City Manager Jerry Kenny said Monday that the ordinance was prompted in part by the fatal shootings of five children and the wounding of more than 30 others on a Stockton schoolyard on Jan. 17 by Patrick Edward Purdy, a high school dropout and drifter who had a long record of misdemeanor charges.
But Smith said the ordinance was being sought on an emergency basis because it would have headed off the influx of assault-rifle buyers from Los Angeles, where the weapons have been outlawed.
A manager of a gun store chain told The Times earlier in February that its inventory of semiautomatic weapons would be transferred from its Los Angeles store to the one in Westminster.
Under the ordinance, an assault weapon was described as any semiautomatic action rifle that accepts a detachable magazine of 20 rounds or more. It named AR-15s, Uzis, Ingram Mac-10s, Heckler and Koch 93s, AK-47s, M1-As and M-14s. Sales of semiautomatic shotguns with more than six rounds would be prohibited, along with semiautomatic handguns modified from rifles.
The drafters of the ordinance said it was not the intent of the council to “place restrictions” on the use of weapons, which are designed primarily for hunting, target practice or “other legitimate sports or recreational activities.”
In Los Angeles, possession of semiautomatic weapons became illegal at midnight Tuesday. The prohibition of the rifles was part of a law passed earlier that outlawed the sale of the weapons. In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted down a ban on possession and sale of military-type assault weapons in unincorporated areas of the county.
Many cities in Southern California, including Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and San Fernando have said they plan to consider legislation to ban semiautomatic weapons.
Westminster Councilman Fry said before the meeting that the ordinance is a no-win situation. “I don’t think that would be right to have a recall against someone who’s making a decision to the best of his ability to protect the populace.”