Long Beach Expected to Ban Assault Rifles Despite Surge of Opposition

Times Staff Writer

A proposal to outlaw the sale of semiautomatic assault weapons in this city appears destined for easy passage, even though fervent opponents of the measure are expected to descend on City Council chambers this week to denounce the ban.

Predicting the ordinance’s approval, Mayor Ernie Kell said last week that he will sign it. “For us to be among the major (cities) in Southern California and not recognize the dangers of assault rifles being sold is wrong,” commented Kell, who will be in Texas on previously planned personal business when the proposal is considered Tuesday.

Panel Suggestion Rejected

In an unusual move, the council last month rejected a committee recommendation that the legislation be shelved, instead directing the city attorney to draw up an ordinance outlawing the sale--but not the possession--of assault weapons such as the AK-47, used by the gunman who killed five Stockton schoolchildren earlier this year.

The measure’s revival angered and surprised opponents, who are marshaling forces to show up to renounce a law they insist will do nothing to halt the carnage of gang shootings, but will only force the guns onto the black market and keep them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

Two large, lime green posters in Turner’s Outdoorsman shop on Long Beach Boulevard urge opponents to call their council members and turn out for Tuesday’s meeting. “We are encouraging every citizen of Long Beach to attend,” said Mike Lum, vice president of Turner’s, which has nine stores in Southern California.

Of the local gun shops listed in the Yellow Pages, Turner’s Long Beach outlet appears to be the only one that regularly sells semiautomatic assault weapons of the sort that would be banned by the council ordinance.

Before the Stockton massacre spotlighted the weapons’ availability, Lum said his Long Beach store sold an average of fewer than five a week. But media publicity about the guns, coupled with the adoption of a Los Angeles ban on their sale and possession in that city, has driven sales up to as many as 20 a week, depleting the shop’s stock.

“We’re virtually sold out of everything the public has been wanting,” Lum said, noting that prices of many of the assault rifles have doubled. The AK-47, for instance, has leaped from $300 to $600.

Lum said most assault-rifle customers are business people who want the guns as investments or for target shooting. “We’re getting a lot of people out of L.A.,” he added.

Lum and others cite the by-now familiar arguments against anti-assault weapon laws, which have been passed in Compton as well as Los Angeles, and which are being considered by the state Legislature.

“When is the criminal going to have to take responsibility for his actions?” asked Lum, who contends that a ban on selling assault rifles makes no more sense than outlawing cars to stop drunk driving.

“All the ban is going to do is create a giant black market,” insisted Lee Silva, a Long Beach free-lance writer who contributes to gun magazines and is urging opponents to attend the council meeting.

More Controls Seen

Opponents complain that a prohibition on assault weapons will disarm the public, infringing on the constitutional right to bear arms and moving the country closer to sweeping gun controls.

The majority of City Council members nonetheless seem ready to clear the rapid-fire weapons from local store shelves.

“I’m hopeful it will be a unanimous decision,” said Councilman Clarence Smith of Tuesday’s expected vote on the gun ban. He said he also advocates a prohibition on possession, but will not push that because he does not believe he can garner enough votes for passage.

Councilman Les Robbins, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy and one of two council members who voted against drawing up the anti-assault weapon ordinance, said last week that he was not sure how he will vote on the measure.

Insisting a statewide ban is the only effective way to combat the weapons’ sale, Robbins said that from a practical standpoint, “we’re not doing anything that’s going to do anything” if the council passes a local ban. On the other hand, he remarked, “I don’t want the newspapers to write the next morning that Les Robbins is for assault rifles, because he isn’t.”

Councilman Tom Clark, saying it is likely the Legislature will soon pass a statewide ban that would render any local action moot, called the proposed city ordinance a “message of support” for a statewide law.

With hours of heated public testimony expected Tuesday morning, Robbins predicted, “It’s gonna be a nightmare.”