The Santa Monica City Council has unanimously passed an emergency ordinance, modeled on a law adopted last week in Los Angeles, that immediately bans the sale of semiautomatic assault rifles within the city limits and outlaws their possession beginning May 1.
More than a dozen people, including the owners of the only two gun shops in Santa Monica, spoke against the ordinance at Tuesday night’s council meeting, saying it is unconstitutional and won’t work.
“It is a piece of emotional legislation, confusing to the public and unconstitutional,” said E. Bruce Jochim, who has owned a gun shop on Colorado Avenue for 17 years. “We’re pleading for rationalism here, not emotionalism.”
Jochim, 60, a member of the National Rifle Assn., said he has never sold an AK-47 or Uzi in his shop, but he argued that the ordinance’s definition of assault weapons is too broad.
For example, he said, many of the hunting and target-shooting rifles that he sells could be modified after purchase to fall into the category of “assault rifles.” Those guns are included in the ban, he said, even though they do not qualify as assault rifles when Jochim sells them.
Councilman David Finkel, who originally proposed the ordinance, said there were compelling reasons to pass the ban.
“If enough cities adopt this measure, then maybe there’s a better chance that Roberti’s Senate bill will pass,” he said, referring to a bill now before the state Senate, introduced by Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), that would impose a statewide ban on assault weapons. A similar bill is being carried in the Assembly by Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos.
Finkel has called assault rifles the “scourge of the country.”
Santa Monica, like several other California cities, moved to ban the weapons after a drifter used an AK-47 to kill five children in a schoolyard in Stockton in January.
The NRA and other pro-gun lobbyists have mounted a massive campaign to stop the legislation.
In Santa Monica, Jochim and other opponents of the new law said the city should concentrate on cleaning up what they call a flawed judicial system rather than writing more legislation.
Rather than banning the weapons, he said, the council should impose a 15-day waiting period for rifles and shotguns similar to the one already mandatory for the purchase of handguns. This would allow time for a background check on buyers, he said.
Judson Swearingen, who owns Santa Monica’s other gun shop, Ames-Cole’s Guns on 20th Street, said: “What we need is criminal control, not gun control.”
Swearingen, 33, told the council that “if you want to stop criminals from buying rifles, we’ll help you. If you want to stop the citizens from buying firearms, you lose our support.” He also proposed a 15-day waiting period for buying rifles and shotguns.
During a visit to his store earlier this week, Jochim showed several popular hunting guns that he said would fall under the ban.
Hunted Since Childhood
Jochim said he has hunted since he was a child. When he was 9, he said, his father gave him his first gun, and they would go down to the Los Angeles River to hunt rabbits.
Now stuffed heads and antlers of deer he shot line the walls of Jochim’s store. Above the cashier’s counter hangs the mounted head of a javelina, a wild pig native to the Southwest. Below the trophy is a photograph of Jochim in the Arizona desert, smiling as he holds up the carcass.
“I’ve got people who come in here all the time, and their love in life is to go to a shooting range and put five shots through the same hole in a piece of paper,” he said. “That’s what they just love to do.”
Opponents of the ban repeated that position several times during Tuesday’s council meeting.
But council members weren’t buying it.
“Why does any sportsman worth his salt need a semiautomatic weapon?” Councilman William H. Jennings asked.
A man in a 10-gallon hat shouted: “You don’t know ‘cause you never tried it!”
As the council voted in favor of the ordinance, several opponents noisily got up and left the chambers.