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Gun Ban Clears Assembly Panel but Lacks Votes for Floor Victory

Times Staff Writer

The Assembly version of a bill to ban military assault weapons in California easily cleared a committee obstacle Wednesday, but its author conceded that he lacks the votes to win passage by the full Assembly.

The proposal, sponsored by law enforcement officers statewide and fiercely opposed by the National Rifle Assn., is scheduled for an Assembly floor vote Monday. It requires a simple majority of 41 votes.

“I have 38 hard votes,” Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) said, acknowledging that prying loose extra votes from reelection-conscious legislators is especially tough on the politically charged gun control issue.

Roos noted that in negotiating for votes, a legislator normally may be asked to amend the bill in order to gain support. “But I’m not getting a lot of that. It makes me uneasy,” Roos said.

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The Assembly bill was sent to the floor when majority Democratic members of the Ways and Means Committee overwhelmed Republicans on a party-line 14-3 vote after a sometimes angry hearing. Six Republicans were absent or did not vote.

The bill would make it a felony to manufacture, sell, transfer or possess without a special permit about 40 semiautomatic military-style guns that would be classified as “assault weapons” and include certain pistols, rifles and shotguns. It also would be against the law to manufacture, sell or possess “look-alike” copies of the banned firearms.

Eyes on Conference

A similar but broader bill by Senate leader David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) is scheduled for a floor vote today in the Senate, where supporters expressed confidence that it will win approval and be sent to the Assembly.

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Increasingly, it appears that if the Legislature is to outlaw assault weapons this year, the final product will be written by a Senate-Assembly conference committee, supporters of the Roos and Roberti bills agreed.

From the outset, however, the Assembly has shaped up as the major battleground. Republicans, who historically oppose gun control, tend to vote as a tighter bloc in the Assembly than they do in the Senate. Likewise, conservative Assembly Democrats from rural districts, where guns and hunting are part of the life style, hesitate to antagonize constituents on firearms issues.

These Democrats, particularly those who won hard-fought reelection battles, are especially vulnerable to lobbying by gun-owner groups. In energizing its 250,000 members in California, the NRA warns that their right to own hunting and sporting weapons is in jeopardy, a claim emphatically denied by proponents of the ban.

At the Ways and Means Committee hearing, gun owner representatives David Marshall of the NRA and Kent L. DeChambeau of the California Rifle & Pistol Assn. ran into a firestorm from Democrats when they sought to present their case.

DeChambeau called the bill a “simply veiled threat” to outlaw semiautomatic hunting rifles, not merely assault weapons. He complained that the bill failed to draw a clear distinction between the two.

But one committee member, Assemblyman Elihu Harris (D-Oakland), exploded in anger, shouting at DeChambeau and Marshall: “You don’t understand the problem we are facing. . . . People shooting animals in the wide open spaces is different than a Patrick Purdy killing kids in a schoolyard.”

The current gun control debate was ignited by the Jan. 17 murders of five Stockton children by Purdy, a deranged drifter who raked a schoolyard with at least 106 bullets from an AK-47 assault rifle. Twenty-nine other children and a teacher were wounded before Purdy killed himself.

Here is how the Ways and Means Committee voted:

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Democrats for (14): John Burton, San Francisco; Robert J. Campbell, Richmond; Steve Clute, Riverside; Terry B. Friedman, Los Angeles; Thomas M. Hannigan, Fairfield; Harris; Lucy Killea, San Diego; Jack O’Connell, Carpinteria; Richard Polanco, Los Angeles; Roos; Lucille Roybal-Allard, Los Angeles; Jackie Speier, South San Francisco; John Vasconcellos, Santa Clara; Maxine Waters, Los Angeles.

Democrats against (0): None.

Republicans for (0): None.

Republicans against (3): Dennis Brown, Los Alamitos; Frank Hill, Whittier; Cathie Wright, Simi Valley.

Absent or not voting (6): Republicans William P. Baker, Danville; Gerald N. Felando, San Pedro; Bill Jones, Fresno; Sunny Mojonnier, Encinitas; Pat Nolan, Glendale; Eric Seastrand, Salinas.


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