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Chipping Away at Guns

There was just enough political courage available in Sacramento Tuesday to strike a blow for sanity. Committees in both the Senate and Assembly narrowly approved separate bills to ban the sale of military assault rifles of the sort that terrorized a Stockton elementary school in January and that jeopardize the lives of police officers and innocent citizens every day. This was a first step, but an important one. Final passage of a bill probably is months away. In the meantime, proponents of the ban on these weapons of mass death must work unceasingly to persuade wavering lawmakers that the legislation has overwhelming popular support.

In spite of a massive National Rifle Assn. campaign in his district designed to cow Assemblyman Charles W. Quackenbush (R-Saratoga) into voting against the ban, telephone calls to Quackenbush’s office ran 7-1 in favor of some kind of gun control. Quackenbush had been identified as the pivotal vote in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The NRA’s threat, of course, is that anyone who dares support any controls will suffer the gun lobby’s wrath at the next election. But if the voters give the subject any thought, few of them are going to punish a legislator for making it a little more difficult to commit mass murder.

Unfortunately, Quackenbush’s deciding vote came at a cost for sponsor Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles): an amendment that wiped out the blanket ban on all assault rifles, leaving theprohibition only on 44 specifically listed models, including the AK-47 and the Uzi. Roos still views the committee action as a major victory, but his bill now has a giant loophole. Presumably a manufacturer would merely have to make minor changes in a banned model and sell it under a different name.

The best bill is the one sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), which includes the generic definition of assault rifles and creates a commission to pass on new weapons as they are manufactured. The Roberti bill won approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee 6-5. Every effort should be made to keep the Roberti measure intact through its enactment into law.

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To do so, proponents must make it clear to voters that the measure does not abridge anyone’s “right” to bear arms that are more than adequate for self-defense, or to have the fun of killing game animals or shooting at targets. Among the weapons specifically exempted from the bill are all manually operated bolt-action weapons, lever-action weapons, slide-action weapons, single-shot weapons, multiple-barrel weapons and revolving-cylinder weapons. In fact, the Roberti bill does not even ban all semiautomatic weapons--only those employing a detachable magazine with a capacity of 20 rounds or more. Weapons not covered by the bill include “all semiautomatic weapons with a fixed magazine capacity of 10 rounds or less.”

In Los Angeles Tuesday, the County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 against a ban on the sale of assault rifles. Hardly a profile in courage there.


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