Hospitalized for cancer treatment, Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro) was the only member of the Assembly who did not vote this week on landmark legislation to outlaw most military assault weapons in California.
Felando, a lifetime member of the National Rifle Assn., said in an interview that he would have voted against outlawing semiautomatic weapons if the radiation treatment for cancer had not prevented him from being in Sacramento. He is receiving weekly radiation treatments at USC’s Norris Cancer Hospital for mycosis fungoides, a form of lymphoma that affects the skin and occasionally spreads to internal organs.
The hotly debated measure by Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) passed the Assembly on Monday with a bare 41-vote majority in the 80-member house. The legislation lists more than 40 semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns, including AK-47s and Uzis, that would be banned as illegal assault weapons.
A stronger Senate bill to outlaw virtually all semiautomatic weapons passed the upper house last week with the support of all three South Bay senators, and a conference committee is expected to work out a compromise acceptable to both houses and to Gov. George Deukmejian.
Other South Bay assemblymen split sharply over the issue, which pits gun owners against law-enforcement officials and gun-control advocates.
Assemblymen Richard E. Floyd (D-Carson) and Dave Elder (D-San Pedro) sided with gun owners and voted against the measure.
But freshman Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker Jr. (D-Inglewood) voted for the bill, saying semiautomatic guns are the “weapons of choice” used by gangs and drug dealers in his district and elsewhere.
Both the Assembly measure and the Senate version gained support after a gunman using an AK-47 murdered five schoolchildren and wounded 29 classmates and a teacher in a Stockton schoolyard Jan. 17 and then killed himself.
Felando, a six-term lawmaker who has served as a reserve deputy in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said the Assembly bill would penalize law-abiding citizens and will “not do one thing to control gang activity or gang murders.” Instead, he said, the measure would create a “false sense of security” in the general public.
The veteran lawmaker, who has built a tough-on-crime record during his 10 years in the Legislature, said lawmakers should tighten penalties for use of a weapon in commission of a crime.
Felando’s district, which includes the beach cities, Torrance, Lomita and the Palos Verdes Peninsula, has not suffered from gang violence as much as other South Bay Assembly districts.
Tucker, who last month won a special election for the Assembly seat long held by his late father, said he voted for the assault-weapons ban because most of his district is “under siege.”
“There is not a night that goes by when we do not hear rapid shots fired from some type of semiautomatic weapon,” Tucker said. “There is a proliferation of semiautomatic weapons. There are people dying in my district from these assault weapons. We don’t need them.”
Tucker said he was “lobbied something terrible” by pro-gun constituents who warned him that “they’ll never support anyone who supports gun control.”
But he said a majority of voters in his district, which includes Inglewood, Lennox, parts of South-Central Los Angeles, Westchester and El Segundo, support a ban on assault weapons.
“We need to take steps to regain control of the streets,” Tucker said. “Law enforcement is outgunned.”
Tucker stressed that he does not favor “gun control in the most stringent sense. I own weapons. I love guns.” But, he said, “we don’t need certain types of guns.”
Floyd took the opposite approach. The recipient of a shotgun from the National Rifle Assn. for his legislative efforts during 1987, Floyd echoed Felando’s sentiments. “I don’t want to give people a false sense of security,” he said.
Floyd said that if a ban becomes law, criminals will still be able to get assault weapons that are stolen or for sale outside the state. “I don’t think we’ve done anything,” he said. “We need a national law. It should apply across the board.”
He noted that “it’s against the law to go shooting people,” but that has not stopped gang violence in his district, which includes Hawthorne, Gardena, Lawndale, Carson and part of Redondo Beach.
Elder said in a statement that a ban on the sale and possession of semiautomatic assault weapons might have “immediate emotional appeal” but is unlikely to have “any major impact because gangs would obtain weapons illegally.”
Instead, Elder suggested a waiting period before a buyer can obtain an assault weapon and tougher penalties for unlawful use of firearms.
Elder represents San Pedro, Wilmington, Harbor City, and much of Long Beach.
The South Bay’s Senate delegation supported a tougher bill by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles) that would essentially prohibit the manufacture, sale, transfer and general possession of semiautomatic assault weapons. The ban on sale would take effect Oct. 1. Senators Robert G. Beverly (R-Manhattan Beach), Ralph C. Dills (D-Gardena), and Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) all voted for the legislation.
Beverly said he agrees with law enforcement agencies about the need to restrict “so-called assault weapons or war weapons.” He said the measure protects the interests of sportsmen who want to hunt and target-shoot.
Beverly represents El Segundo, the beach cities, Torrance, Lomita, the Palos Verdes Peninsula, much of San Pedro and Long Beach.
Dills said he favored the ban on semiautomatic weapons because “an assault weapon is a weapon to kill people” and “innocent people are being slaughtered in my district.”
He said gang members have “a heck of a lot more firepower than law enforcement.”
Dills, who represents Gardena, Carson, Harbor City, Wilmington, part of San Pedro, and a swath stretching across Long Beach to Paramount and Lynwood, said he used to belong to the NRA and believes in the right to bear arms. But he said he “cannot see that it is necessary to have assault weapons.”
He suggested that lawmakers who voted against the ban feared the NRA.
During the Senate debate last week, Watson said part of her district, which includes South Central Los Angeles, Inglewood, Hawthorne, Lawndale and Westchester, suffers from heavy gang activity. She urged her colleagues to support the ban on assault weapons, warning that the gang problem is spreading.